ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Could the city of Albuquerque be looking at big cuts in order to help Bernalillo County fund the jail?
That question is now facing the city as it has been asked by the county to chip in cash to pay for the operational cost of the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Albuquerque city officials are now responding to the request, but so far, Mayor R.J. Berry’s office is saying, “no way.”
“It was very shocking,” said Gilbert Montano, chief of staff for Mayor R.J. Berry.
“I’m very disappointed with the county manager,” said Ken Sanchez, an Albuquerque city councilor.
From the mayor’s office to some city councilors, the idea of giving city money to Bernalillo County to help pay for MDC is already getting controversial.
“The taxpayers of Albuquerque are paying their fair share,” said Sanchez.
“We’re a little taken aback that the county would take this position,” said Montano.
The response comes to a recent letter drafted by Bernalillo County Manager Tom Zdunek asking for the city to help pay for MDC. In the letter, Zdunek argues that the county is struggling to pay for the $93.4 million cost of operating the jail by itself. The county argues that the city should chip in money because the majority of MDC’s inmates were arrested in Albuquerque by Albuquerque Police.
County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins told News 13 on Wednesday that she agrees with the request.
“There is a 35 year history before 2006 of sharing the cost 50/50,” said Hart Stebbins.
The city stopped paying money to the jail in 2006 when the county took over control of the jail. While the county hasn’t said exactly how much it wants from the city, it wants to start negotiating the price now.
“I think it’s absolutely appropriate for the city to pay its fair share,” said Hart Stebbins.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry’s office argues that city tax payers already fund the jail through the property taxes that they pay to the county. The city claims that Albuquerque residents generate 84% of Bernalillo County’s tax revenue.
“We certainly pay more than our fair share,” said Montano.
News 13 asked Montano Thursday, if the city has to pay tens of millions of dollars a year again toward the jail, what’s the impact?
“I’ll caveat it that we’re adamantly against the fee,” said Montano. “It’s every day basic services that the citizens of Albuquerque enjoy and appreciate daily. Public safety, it’s parks, it is community centers, it is meal to seniors, meals to children.”
However, Commissioner Hart Stebbins says the county’s taking on too much of the cost of MDC as it is right now.
“City leaders have been able to keep that revenue that used to go to the jail, while Bernalillo County has had to incur ever increasing cost and that’s cutting into… cutting into our basic services,” said Hart Stebbins.
In its letter to the city, the county threatened to start charging the city per inmate per day if they don’t begin to negotiate an agreement.
Albuquerque’s Chief Operating Officer Rob Perry responded to the letter with one of his own on Wednesday. The letter asks for a “financial and policy analysis” to be conducted at the jail. The city is offering to pay $50,000 towards that study. The county has yet to respond.
If the county does get the city to pay that extra money, the county will have more money to spend on its services. The city argues that those services, like parks, roads, law enforcement, will mostly only benefit people who live outside city limits.