Mayor plans for new Albuquerque zoo jobs after staffing concerns

(KRQE/File Photo) Aerial ABQ Rio Grande BioPark

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry announced his proposal for the city budget on Friday.

It includes a plan in response to critical concerns over staffing at the Rio Grande Zoo that a KRQE News 13 Special Assignment revealed in December.

After concerns that the city was skimping on the zoo, the proposal would move money around to fund new positions there.

That’s good news for the zoo, but it’s also raising questions for other city facilities about whether they’ll lose out on funding they’ve had for decades.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums cited major concerns over reduced staffing and inexperienced temporary workers, possibly compromising safety for the animals and the public.

While voters approved a new city sales tax to raise more than $15 million a year for the BioPark, that money cannot be used for day-to-day operations. Instead, it’s supposed to pay for the construction of new exhibits, like a planned penguin home.

Mayor Berry’s budget proposal, which he’s handing over to city council for approval, includes $650,000 for 12 new full-time positions at the zoo: six for the new penguin and otter exhibits coming soon, and the other six to fill a long-time need.

“We told them that we would make those investments, and we’re coming through with our promise,” Mayor Berry said.

So, where’s the money coming from?

According to the city, when facilities and attractions within the Cultural Services Department, like the KiMo Theatre and the Albuquerque Museum, were rented out for events, each facility held onto those funds.

However, that may not be the case anymore.

The mayor said an auditor advised that money should go back into the general fund.

Now, he said he wants half of it for the new zoo jobs and the other roughly $650,000 will be divvied up among other Cultural Services Department attractions.

“We feel like we’re following the advice of our auditors when they tell us that the best practice is not what the city had done for decades,” Mayor Berry said.

There are still questions about how this could affect those other Cultural Services attractions. Even so, the city budget officer told KRQE News 13 that it’s not a concern, and that those facilities will still be fine on funds.

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