City Hall’s finances have gone to hell in a hand basket just 17 days into Mayor Keller’s term as Mayor, unless someone was just plain lying to the public just a few weeks ago while they were on their way out the door.
A financial forecast for the City reports that the City is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $40,000,000 next fiscal year.
(See December 17, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, $40M budget deficit possible for ABQ; City Council to hear next fiscal year financial forecast Monday.)
The deficit is being attributed to reduced gross receipts tax revenues going to the city, state cuts in appropriations to the city, additional operating costs for new capital projects built by the Berry administration, the need for increase funding for public safety and police just to mention a few.
On September 25, 2017, in his final Mayor State of the City speech, Mayor RJ Berry proclaimed “the state of our city is strong,” and said Albuquerque’s next mayor will “inherit an efficient city government that is living within its means, a growing economy and close to $1.2 billion in infrastructure projects that have been built or are in the pipeline”.
The September 25, 2017 headline proclaimed “A hallmark of physical responsibility”.
(See September 26, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “A hallmark of fiscal responsibility.”)
On November 10, 2017, the very day before he left office, the Albuquerque Journal did yet another front page above the fold story where Berry proclaimed that Albuquerque was a better place than when he took office, with very little, if anything, mentioned about our high crime rates and the condition of APD. Berry blamed the increase in crime rates on the Judiciary.
(See November 30, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “It’s never a me thing”; Outgoing mayor Richard Berry credits staff, directors for making Albuquerque a better place than when he took office.”)
Mayor Keller is now facing a $40 million dollar deficit, 17 days into his term, the worse in eight (8) years.
So much for Berry’s “A hallmark of fiscal responsibility”.
Contributing factors to the $40 million projected deficit include the following:
$2.3 million in lost funding due to the phaseout of “hold harmless” payments from the State. “Hold harmless” payments were being made to cities and counties to compensate them for revenue funding they lost when the state eliminated the gross receipts tax on food and medicine. Mayor Berry supported the elimination of the “hold harmless” payments made to the city to the determent of his own city.
$7.2 million in operating costs for new capital projects that will be coming online, including the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. This does not take into account the $75 million in federal funding that has yet to materialize for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project now costing $134 million instead of $129 million. Keller will now have to go to Washington in January and see if he can get the money promised. The federal budget deal announced in May only has funding for $50 million for ART.
$6.2 million more for medical benefits for city employees.
$3.2 million for a 1 percent across-the-board pay increase for city workers, but this does not reflect overtime paid to city employees and APD which exceeded its overtime budget by $4 million and that will have to be made up for from other departments.
$3.6 million more for the Albuquerque Police Department, which represents a growth class of 40 cadets, presuming that many will actually graduate. Keller has also said there is a lack of “working capital” to hire a shortage of 400 police officers, with appropriations from unfilled officer police positions going to pay for “police overtime”.
$600,000 more for APD’s special investigations division with no indication what those initiatives are.
$1.75 million for debt service on a new police radio system.
$2.8 million to fund the National Senior Games.
$4 million to replace vehicles citywide which does not include projected increased maintenance costs.
$343,000 for new positions for the creation of an Asset Management Department.
$221,000 for minimum wage adjustments required by the increase minimum wage rate in Albuquerque.
What is amazing is that long serving City Council President Ken Sanchez and Vice President Don Harris both have said the city’s troubled financial condition has been going on for some time, yet they have done nothing.
For the last eight (8) years, Sanchez and Harris, and for that matter, the entire City Council, have rubber stamped all that the former Republican Mayor did, including the ART bus project and the final adoption of the ABC-Z comprehensive plan which will have long term impact on our neighborhoods and favors developers.
Sanchez is now even suggesting “revenue enhancement”, code words for increasing taxes.
In addition to a failing economy, a police department in need of reform, Mayor Keller is now facing a $40 million dollar deficit with very few options, including severe budget cuts that will impact essential services, raiding the bio-park gross receipts tax fund, increase fees, enacting revenue bonds to encumber future gross receipt tax revenues and increasing gross receipt taxes.
Mayor Keller was swept into office in part by voter anger about rising crime rates and how bad things are in the City.
There is a big difference between running for office, making a lot of promises versus actually governing and making the decisions that have to be made that will most assuredly anger people.
It’s great being Mayor during good economic times and low crime rates, and miserable being Mayor during a bad economy and rising crime rates.
A Mayor making decisions with an eye towards future office or a legacy is a recipe for failure as was the case for Mayor Berry.
We have had a few Mayor’s that have found out the job is way too close to the garbage cans and the job turned out not to be what they expected.
Within a year, Mayor Keller is either going to really love the job being Mayor like Mayor Marty Chavez who ran four (4) times or absolutely hate it like Mayor Louis Saavedra who ran once and decided not to seek reelection.