ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Tough decisions lie ahead for Bernalillo County commissioners, who are now faced with closing a nearly $20 million budget shortfall for next fiscal year.
At a budget hearing Tuesday, commissioners were presented with the current situation, about $272 million in expenses with only around $253 million in revenue coming in.
“It’s the economy, it’s the revenue,” said Bernalillo County manager Julie Morgas Baca. “The revenue is flat, expenditures are up.”
Bernalillo County Commission vice chair Wayne Johnson said the county’s been heading toward a budget crunch for years by relying on fund balances and reserves.
“Basically what we were doing is kicking the can down the road and the can won’t go any farther,” Johnson said. “It’s the logical extension of what I think’s been going on for a number of years.”
Solving the problem won’t be easy. Many departments who presented before commissioners Tuesday said they’d found savings, but others said cuts would put critical services at risk.
“If we were to cut back in any part of our budget, I think we would start compromising public safety,” said Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales.
Furloughing county workers, giving them unpaid days off to save money, is also on the table.
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Bernalillo County Commission chair Art De La Cruz. “I’m going to try and make sure we’re not there.”
“We do look at things like furloughs,” Johnson said. “What you hate to see is layoffs and we certainly don’t want to see that happen to county employees.”
“We want to protect our employees and their families,” said Morgas Baca. “That’s very important to us.”
Tax increases are also possible. Commissioners passed a tax hike last year, but have the capability to raise gross receipts and property taxes. That idea didn’t seem to be popular with the two commissioners at Tuesday’s budget hearing.
“I’m willing to consider it, but I’m not willing to concede it,” De La Cruz said. “It’ll be a last option.”
“We’ve just done it and I don’t think it’s appropriate that we do so again,” Johnson said. “We have the obligation to live within our means.”
One spot commissioners are taking an especially close look at for savings is the Metropolitan Detention Center, which represents nearly a quarter of the county budget. The inmate population at MDC is down significantly but commissioners say they haven’t seen costs fall at the same rate.
“We shut down pods and yet there’s no savings?” De La Cruz said. “No I think we can do better.”
Another area being looked at is raising fees countywide, some of which De La Cruz said haven’t been increased since the 1990s. Reducing operating hours for county facilities and finding ways to trim employee overtime are also being looked at.
The county is required to have a balanced budget submitted to the state for review by June. County staff is set to present options for balancing the budget to commissioners in the coming weeks.
To view the printout for Tuesday’s meeting, click here.