For the first time in eight (8) years, the Albuquerque City Council is exerting its independence and performing its oversight authority over the city’s budget to the Berry Administration’s chagrin.
(See May 12, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, “Police wage boost sought in city budget; Increase in longevity pay aimed at retaining officers” page A-1)
In this year’s budget, public safety has suddenly become a top priority for the Albuquerque the City Council, with City Councilor Don Harris saying that there is an “urgent situation” and the council is trying to address it.
In a major understatement, Councilor Harris said crime has become a significant problem in Albuquerque and people are worried.
I hate to break the news to the Albuquerque City Council, but increased crime rates have been a problem in Albuquerque for the last eight (8) years and the City Council has done little to address it.
The urgent situation no doubt is the fact that it is an election year for five (5) of the City Councilors including City Councilors Ken Sanchez and Don Harris who are seeking reelection to their 4th and 3rd terms respectively and no doubt they are worried about their reelections.
The City Council is setting aside $4 million dollars for longevity pay for experienced police officers as an incentive to keep them from retiring or leaving APD to go elsewhere.
For an extended number of years, longevity pay was relied upon by APD and it was a proven and successful program to keep experienced police officers from retiring.
The City Council longevity pay program funding consists of $13,000 for APD officers who have been with APD for 18 years or more, $5,200 for officers who have been with APD 15 to 17 years, $3,250 for officers who have been with APD 10 to 14 years, and $2,600 for officers that have been with APD for less than 8 years.
The Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) praised the city councils longevity pay as “refreshing” saying the $4 million was a step in the right direction.
It’s good to have the police union on your side when your up for reelection seeking an endorsement.
It’s noteworthy that no other city employees are offered longevity pay.
The Berry Administration has expressed strong objections to the longevity pay to APD as a major change to the budget it submitted to the city council on April 1, 2017.
The Berry Administration claims it submitted “a balanced and common sense” budget and does not like the City Council’s changes claiming the councils budget is not “structurally balanced” as proposed, whatever that means.
The Berry Administration strong objections to the longevity pay program should not come as any surprise seeing that they went out of their way to get rid of the program eight (8) years ago and the City Council did not object to it and went along with it.
An additional $6.2 million in spending increases for public safety priorities are being proposed by the city council.
$1.2 million is being set aside for 25 additional police service aides who assist with APD calls and prepare reports.
$2.5 million is being set aside for police vehicles, when normally such funding comes from the capital improvements bonding program.
$960,000 is being budgeted for a 3% raise for firefighters, who are always good to have on your side in an election year.
Eight years ago, when Berry took office he appointed Darren White Chief Public Safety Officer, both Harris and Sanchez had no objections to the appointment and voted to approve White.
The same year, the Berry Administration abolished the longevity program that kept experienced police officers from retiring, unilaterally decided not to pay a 5% negotiated pay raise, abolished the APD take home car policy for APD, eliminated sign on bonuses and mortgage down payments for new recruits, all policy changes implemented by Darren White.
Moral within APD plummeted and the mass exodus of experienced police officers began when the longevity pay program was abolished.
In eight (8) years, APD went from 1,100 sworn police to 856 all under the watchful eye of the City Councilors Sanchez and Harris and an Albuquerque City Council that rubber-stamped every single city budget submitted by the Berry Administration.
The City Council is part of what is wrong with city hall today.
Hopefully voters will not “rubber stamp” the reelection of incumbents on October 2, 2017.