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Mayor Berry’s final budget reflects lean times

Mayor Richard Berry

Mayor Richard Berry

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

In his final budget for the city of Albuquerque, Mayor Richard Berry will propose $1.2 million for a new property crime reduction program, $1 million to make inroads on the city’s massive rape kit backlog and increased funding to open the new otter and penguin exhibits at the Albuquerque BioPark.

The budget proposal contains no across-the-board raises for city employees, although it does set aside funding for 1 percent pay raises for those at the city making less than $30,000 a year.

And it allocates $3.8 million from the general fund – $200,000 more than last year – to help shore up the city’s self-insurance fund, which has paid out an estimated $63.3 million to settle law enforcement civil rights cases from 2010 to 2016.

Overall, Berry’s budget proposes spending $529.6 million on general operations – a 0.6 percent increase over this year’s budget.

“It’s a tight budget. It’s a tight year,” Berry told Journal editors and reporters Thursday.

The mayor planned to unveil the budget today. The proposal, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, will now go to the City Council, which can make changes.

The budget contains no tax increases, no furloughs and no layoffs. But it does include two minor fee increases for senior citizen activities.

Membership fees at senior centers would go up from about $1.10 to $1.70 a month to provide better breakfasts and lunches to patrons. Dance entrance fees would be raised from $2.50 to $3 per dance in an attempt to improve the quality of bands that perform at those functions.

Berry said he included those fee increases in the budget at the request of seniors who have told him that they want better food and better entertainment, and were willing to pay a little extra for it.

APD budget up $7M

Under Berry’s plan, the Albuquerque Police Department would see nearly $7 million in additional funding for the property crime and rape kit backlog initiatives and in anticipation of graduating more cadets and filling some of APD’s vacant positions.

In all, the budget contains funding for 1,000 police officers, of which about 845 of those positions are currently staffed.

The property crime reduction program was approved by the council in February as a pilot. Berry’s budget would make that program permanent, allocating $1.2 million for 17 civilian positions in APD and other costs associated with the program.

Those unarmed employees would respond to non-emergency, property crime calls and would be able to take a report, photograph the scene, canvass the neighborhood for security footage and share any information they discover about burglary patterns with impact detectives, said Rob Perry, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Perry said the city has already hired people for the positions, including retired police officers from other states and investigators from other agencies.

The program will allow APD to respond to break-ins quicker, he said. The current response times for those non-priority calls average nearly one hour, although in some cases victims have had to wait as long as four hours.

The program will also free up sworn officers for priority calls, he said.

An increase in funding to address the rape kit backlog is part of an ongoing effort on the part of city officials to resolve the problem.

New Mexico has the highest number of untested rape kits per capita in the nation, according to an investigation by the state auditor. Of the 4,302 untested rape kits counted in November, nearly 4,000 were collected during investigations in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

Of the $1 million in increased funding to address the testing of the backlogged rape kits, $808,000 will be used to hire a high-capacity lab to speed up testing of those kits. The city has already issued a request for proposal and is applying for a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Berry said he wants all of the rape kits to be processed.

“We owe those 4,000 people an answer,” he said.

The remaining $192,000 of the $1 million is earmarked to ensure that the crime lab has the staff it needs to keep up with kits as crimes occur. The council approved a resolution earlier this month requiring APD to test rape kits within three months of receiving them, once the APD Crime Lab is staffed with 10 full-time analysts, but no later than October 2018.

City budget officer Gerald Romero said the additional funding for the crime lab should be sufficient to get the lab to the point where it can meet the new deadline.

More money for zoo

Berry said one of the biggest beneficiaries in his budget is the zoo.

The mayor is proposing nearly $552,000 for 12 new staff positions and other operating costs at the Albuquerque BioPark needed to open the new otter and penguin exhibits and to maintain zoological accreditation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

And while there is no across-the-board pay raise being recommended for employees, Berry said that could change.

He said he’s hopeful that funding for a 1 percent pay raise for all employees will materialize once an agreement related to distribution of tax revenue from internet sales is reached between Amazon and the state.

The city’s transit drivers, meanwhile, are in line for 2 percent pay raises. The city has already approved that raise, but the union has not yet signed off on it.

Other highlights in the budget proposal include:

  • Continued funding in Animal Welfare for the trap neuter release program and for animal behavior specialists.
  •   Recurring funding for programs that have received national acclaim, including Albuquerque Heading Home, Running Start for Careers, Homework Diner, International Baccalaureate at Albuquerque Public Schools and the Esperanza Bike Shop.
  • Funding for new positions and operating dollars for the expansion of Pat Hurley and Dennis Chavez community centers.
  • Expanded funding for the mayor’s panhandling initiative.
  • And $633,000 reserved in lodgers and hospitality funds for the cost of hosting the National Senior Games.

Berry said his budget puts the city on solid financial footing, and he said the city has been able to accomplish that without raising taxes in the eight years he has been mayor.

“We have really held our budget growth at or below inflation,” he said.

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