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Council Overrides Mayor's Veto

By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
    City councilors on Monday overrode the mayor's veto of $9 million to Bernalillo County for the jail, a payment the mayor called "financially foolhardy."
    The council got just the six votes it needed to preserve funding it approved last month as part of the city budget. At the time, councilors decided to delay Mayor Martin Chávez's proposed tax cut by six months to free up money for the $9 million payment.
    The eighth-cent reduction in gross receipts taxes is now scheduled for July 1 of next year, instead of January as Chávez had proposed.
    The override of the veto was favored by Isaac Benton, Michael Cadigan, Don Harris, Martin Heinrich, Debbie O'Malley and Brad Winter. It was opposed by Craig Loy, Sally Mayer and Ken Sanchez.
    O'Malley said councilors took the initiative to deal with a jail-funding problem when "the mayor did not take the responsibility."
    She said she was disappointed with comments that have been made by critics of the assistance, especially claims that the $9 million payment was the result of "a back-room deal." She said there was considerable public discussion of the issue, not a secretive process.
    Winter said councilors have come under political attack for supporting the payment. "There have been a lot of intimidation tactics to get a few of us to change our votes," but he said he doesn't respond to intimidation.
    Cadigan said the principal role of city government is to protect citizens from crime, and proper funding for the jail "keeps criminals behind bars where they belong, and keeps our citizens safe."
    Others said the payment was a compromise to keep the Legislature from forcing the city to pay even more for the jail.
    Councilors voting to uphold the veto said the $9 million payment is out of line and did not get enough study.
    "I feel like this is inappropriate. I feel like it is sort of a gift to the county," Mayer said.
    Loy said that the county has a difficult job but that the city has to evaluate its own priorities.
    "I don't support giving them $9 million. It's not going to be one-time thing. It's going to happen over and over again," he said.
    Sanchez said that he's "very concerned" about the payment, and he said that the city needs a better analysis of jail expenditures and revenue.
    "If we are going to appropriate $9 million of the city taxpayers' money, it is our fiduciary responsibility to get all the facts," he said.
    Chávez, at a news conference earlier in the day, said that the payment would be "financially foolhardy" and that an override of his veto "certainly will not be the end of the conversation."
    Interviewed by telephone after the vote Monday night, Chávez said he will seek accountability as the city enters into negotiations with the county for a contract regarding payment of the $9 million.
    "We can require the county to explain what measures within their budget have given rise to the need for this money. We can require a forensic audit of the jail, its construction, the bid process," he said.
    "We can now tell the county they are not allowed to release prisoners without a court order. And we can establish performance benchmarks as a condition of the contract." he said. "It will be a refreshing exercise."
    Until recently, the city and county shared the cost of the jail, but the county took over the operation last year.
    The county had raised its taxes slightly to help provide money for the jail, and the city reduced its tax by a corresponding amount.