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Mayor Asks for $473 Million Budget

By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
    Mayor Martin Chávez proposed a $473 million general-fund budget Monday calling for employee pay raises and a host of efforts ranging from public-safety programs to library improvements.
    His proposal includes animal-welfare goals, community center upgrading, expansion of bus service on the West Side and further development of BioPark exhibits. It would open senior-citizen programs to people who are 50 years old, instead of 55.
    There would be a budget increase of 4.4 percent, compared with this year's estimated spending. Inflation during the past year has been 3.6 percent, and the city is dealing with issues such as population growth and rising fuel costs that have hit some departments especially hard.
    The proposal will be the focus of hearings and debate before councilors adopt a final version late next month. But it reflects cooperation and includes some items that were requested by councilors, according to Chávez and others.
    The plan, formally introduced at a City Council meeting Monday, covers basic operations of most city departments in the fiscal year that will begin July 1.
    Money is included for pay raises of 4.5 percent for police and firefighters, and 3.5 percent for other permanent employees. The proposal emphasizes that the actual size of any raises will depend on talks under way with unions.
    Police and fire departments would get about 42 percent of the budget. The proposal would expand enforcement at traffic lights and school zones and pay for a regional study to analyze police compensation, management and other issues. The fire department would get at least $4.4 million for renovations and $1.2 million to replace two fire engines and buy equipment.
    The proposal would provide $8.6 million to help Bernalillo County when it takes over the operation of the Metropolitan Detention Center on July 1. There also would be $2.5 million to pay for accrued sick leave and vacation time of jail workers transferring to county employment, and $336,000 for capital needs, for a total of $11.4 million.
    Chávez is pushing for a tax cut because of the city's reduced financial responsibility for the jail, but the cut is not in the budget proposal. A tax cut likely would take effect on July 1, 2007, after the upcoming fiscal year concludes.
    One of the largest new programs in the budget would focus on animal welfare. It calls for spending $2.1 million in the first phase of a plan to end the euthanasia of adoptable pets at city animal shelters within three years.
    Under the proposal, 27 people would be added to the animal-care division. Two vans would provide spay, neuter and microchip services at a low cost or for free; animal adoption centers would be opened Coronado and Cottonwood malls; money would be available for educational outreach.
    Other budget highlights are:
  • A full-time wildlife biologist to help manage wildlife populations;
  • A plan for the library system, evaluating needs for technology and facilities;
  • $50,000 to study the need for a multigenerational center in far northeastern Albuquerque;
  • $110,000 for enhanced programming and security at Taylor Ranch Community Center;
  • $200,000 to bolster West Side summer staffing for community centers and recreational programs;
  • $1 million for modified Rapid Ride bus service on Coors between Cottonwood Mall and Central;
  • Park and Ride transit service for main events at the zoo;
  • $336,000 to re-establish trolley service between Downtown and Old Town;
  • Funding for new BioPark exhibits and programs: a Japanese garden; an exhibit of Asian animals and birds; an exhibit of Australian animals and plants; a facility for insects; and a breeding program for endangered elephants;
  • Adding four City Council policy analysts and two interns.
    Budget hearing
        The mayor's general-fund budget proposal will be the focus of City Council hearings on April 27, May 4 and May 18. Locations have not been determined. Final adoption of a budget is planned for May 22.