Busy as bees in spring. Albuquerque city councilors approved a $711 million dollar general fund budget, spent about $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act monies and approved sending a two-cent gas tax question to voters at their May 17 regular meeting.
Of the three big-ticket items on the agenda, the biggest is the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget. Municipal budgets run from July 1 through June 30. The state bean-counters like to see municipal budgets sent up to them by June 1, hence making the month of May municipal money month. There were not many changes made to the proposed budget sent down to the council by Mayor Tim Keller.
The new budget is about 5.8 percent higher than last year’s coffer. All city employees will get a 3 percent cost of living raise, after some went without raises last year. And citizens get a bump too, as city buses will be free for everyone to ride.
A few highlights include: $13 million for the Animal Welfare department; $15.8 million to the BioPark; $14 million for public libraries; $1.7 million for the Civilian Police Oversight Agency; $7.7 million to form a new Community Safety Department within the police department; $2.5 for Economic Development; more than $50 million for the important Family and Community Services Department; the city’s impressive fire department will get about $94 million; the legal beagles will get about $6.9 million; parks and recreation gets about $45 million to keep us doing the fun things; the transit department will get about $64 million to keep the wheels on the free buses going round and round; a little more than $66 million to keep planes landing at the Sunport; $62 million for pick up all the garbage Burque generates; a little more than $51 million to the Family and Community Services Department. And the list goes on.
Zoom meetings limit public participation. But at this meeting there was more than enough passion coming through the tubes or airwaves or whatever. Almost all of the comments were directed at the roughly $222 million in the general fund budget and $10 million in pandemic money being funneled into the city’s police department. Comments followed the national cry for police reform, rethinking how police departments are funded.
“Police do not keep me safe,” said one passionate speaker. “It is irresponsible for the City Council to fund one of the most violent police departments in the country,” said another. With the underlying theme being that, “The city should put funding towards the needs of the community, not policing,” as one speaker expressed.
One councilor said they would like to see the police department’s funding lower, as we move forward with more community services. City leaders and another City Council member said funding the police department is a priority and challenge—especially under the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
There is no such thing as free money, but the city got about $60 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to cover costs incurred by the city during the COVID-19 pandemic. The money will go toward such things as: $24 million for rental assistance; nearly $10 million for various housing vouchers; $10 million to the police department, with $3 million of that for a gunshot detection system, and many other interesting expenditures. Check this and all the city’s business on the city web site at cabq.gov
City councilors approved sending a two-cent a gallon gas tax question to the voters at a future election. The proposed municipal gas tax, if passed by the voters, will be used to rehabilitate public streets and roadways throughout the city. This means money to fix more potholes, crumbling asphalt and other damaging roadway problems. It will appear on the ballot sometime in 2022.
*Hundreds of hot air balloons will be in the air when October comes around. A task force has been formed to look at possible vacant land that can be acquired, or at least used by hot air balloons to safely land when floating over the city. The working group will come up with some options.
*Dropping the city’s Voter ID requirements will be taken up by the council next time as well. This would remove the requirement in the city’s charter to show an ID when voting in regular local elections. Voters will have to continue to say their name, address, etc. when they go to vote.
*Plastic bag ban will be back on the table, or at least in shopping carts, sometime in June. The ban was implemented shortly before the pandemic, but was suspended during the duration of the pandemic due to health concerns.
*City staffers and councilors said goodbye to Stephanie Yara, the director of City Council, who is leaving the city after more than 14 years. She started as an auditor, then moved into being a council policy analyst and finance officer, then to the director position. All of us—councilors, reporters and the public—counted on Yara’s calm, simple, intelligent and complete explanations of complicated city finances and business.
*Nicole Kelly was appointed by the council to be the city’s new auditor. The candidates appeared by Zoom to pitch themselves, and Kelly won out. Kelly has more than 14 years in auditing. She has worked for the city’s Office of Internal Audit and Office of Inspector General, so she knows how things are there in City Hall. Congratulations or condolences, depending on how the job goes.
Between the last two council meetings, these fine citizens were appointed to seats on some of the city’s boards and commissions: Joshua Hoffman CFE to the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund; Matthew Biggs, Myra Ghattas and Paulette M. Baca to the Small Business Regulatory Advisory Committee; Scott Smith to the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; Stephen Olson to the Indicators Progress Commission; Laura L. Harris and Karl Horak to the Biological Park Board.
BOX: The next meeting of the City Council is set for a Zoom meeting at 3pm, Monday, June 7. Watch it at GOV-TV at cabq.gov or on Comcast Cable Channel 16 or on the city’s YouTube channel.
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