Councilors rework mayor’s budget plan to put $10.2M more into public safety

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – There could soon be another budget battle underway, but not involving the governor.

Mayor Richard J. Berry and Albuquerque city councilors are clashing on how to balance the budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

A group of city councilors — Brad Winter, Don Harris, Klarissa Pena and Ken Sanchez — have taken Mayor Berry’s proposed budget and given it a hefty makeover to include adding $10.2 million more to public safety.

The substitute budget bill was passed at the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday night and will go before city councilors on Monday for a full vote.

“[Public safety] is, I think, the number on priority in our city, and the biggest challenge that we face,” Councilor Sanchez said.

Councilor Sanchez said it’s clear citizens of Albuquerque are perturbed by the city’s crime problem, and it needs to be fixed.

The substitute budget bill councilors are suggesting would put $4 million into a “police longevity problem” to keep officers on the force longer. It also adds funding for 25 more police service aides, new police vehicles, a new rescue vehicle at Fire Station 4 and increased firefighter salaries.

The proposal would even add another prosecutor and more staff to the overwhelmed district attorney’s office.

“I hope in the end, that the mayor knows the importance of public safety in our community, and he does… And I would hope that he works with this council to get his budget passed,” Councilor Sanchez said.

Councilor Sanchez said the councilors’ plan would not increase taxes, but would include a hiring freeze for four months with the exception of public safety and critical positions.

The mayor’s office, however, has voiced concern over where the funding for all of these would come from.

Albuquerque Mayor’s Office spokeswoman Rhiannon Samuel sent this statement to KRQE News 13:

The Berry Administration sent the City Council a balanced and common sense budget in April. While we will always compromise with the Council to craft a final budget that provides for improved quality of life, public safety, taxpayer value and sustainability; our first glance at this draft Council proposal appears to include some items of concern, including:

  • Not structurally balanced as proposed
  • Wiping out the risk recovery fund additions that were included in the Administration’s budget proposal (KRQE note: the Mayor’s Office says this means money to settle lawsuits)
  • Raiding the additional reserves that have been built up during the Berry Administration that have kept our bond ratings high

Councilor Sanchez says the crime in Albuquerque — and costs of prosecuting it — has become so great, something needs to be done now and that the worries from the mayor’s office can wait.

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding, we’ve got the stop the gap with the crime that we are confronting in Albuquerque. When we’re number one in our city for all the wrong reasons, we must make some major changes,” he said.

The substitute budget bill also includes just over $1 million more in funding to economic development, social service, community, cultural and senior affairs and parks programs.

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