Below are two guest editorial columns that ran side by side and were published on December 30, 2017 by the Albuquerque Journal under a bold red heading THE COST OF PUBLIC SAFETY.
The Albuquerque Journal Editor’s entitled my column as “Keller’s APD officer goal likely means a tax hike” and included the subtitle commentary “But Mayor should make the hard decision and back away from putting it up for a public vote”
My column stirred up a few nasty comments on the Journal’s website about liberals always wanting to tax and overspend and cops not doing their jobs.
The second column was by retired APD Police Officer Levi Borunda and the Journal Editors entitled it as “Incentives could have kept officers on force” with the subtitle commentary “Retirement options pushed out APD veterans who were on the fence about staying on duty”.
On April 1, 2018, the Keller Administration will be submitting the proposed City budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 and at that time we will learn how they intend to deal with the $40 million deficit projected.
FOLLOWING ARE BOTH EDITORIAL GUEST COLUMNS AS THEY WERE PUBLISHED BY THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
Keller’s APD officer goal likely means a tax hike
By Pete Dinelli / Former Albuquerque City Councilor
Saturday, December 30th, 2017 at 12:02am
Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to address the $6 million deficit this fiscal year and the huge $40 million budget shortfall the city will be dealing with next fiscal year.
Mayor Keller said, in part, “Because we have a deficit situation, we are really going to have to focus on prioritizing what is important this year for our city. … The tougher question is, how do we actually get more officers on the streets? And we’re going to be working with our police chief and the City Council to find a way to do that.”
Currently, the Albuquerque Police Department is budgeted for 1,000 police officers but actually employs 836 with only 430 assigned to the field to take calls for service.
Money from the 150-plus police officer vacancies has gone to pay police overtime, and the Albuquerque Police Department busted its overtime budget by $4 million going from the $9 million budgeted to $13 million.
On the campaign trail, candidate Keller laid out his plans for APD and for completing the Department of Justice reforms.
Keller made the campaign promise that he wanted to increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 836 positions filled to 1,200, or by 350 sworn police officers, and return to community-based policing.
Getting to the 1,200 level of sworn officers is going to take years and probably will not be accomplished without a tax increase.
On the campaign trail, candidate Keller said he would raise taxes as a last resort for public safety and only with voter approval.
It is disappointing when mayors and city councilors proclaim they will put increases in taxes on the ballot, thereby trying to avoid the political “hot potato” and accusation that they increased taxes when they run for office again.
People have no business running for office if they do not want to make the hard decisions, especially when it comes to taxes and public safety and providing police services.
In any representative form of government, people are elected to make the best decisions they can based on the facts and needs of their constituents.
Public safety and police services are among the few areas that elected officials should never resist increasing taxes when there is a crisis such as we have now in Albuquerque with our high crime rates.
On a federal level, our military defense is akin to police services on the local level, and you never see Congress put to a public vote the Pentagon budget.
Keller is quickly learning, albeit the hard way, there is a big difference between campaigning for elective office and making a lot of promises that you may be unable to keep versus actually governing and making the decisions that have to be made that will most assuredly anger people.
A mayor making decisions with an eye toward future office or a legacy is a recipe for failure.
One of those decisions that upset voters is having to increase our taxes.
As former Mayor David Rusk said, “Taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized society.”
It is the City Council that has the authority to raise taxes, not the mayor.
Keller needs to have a frank conversation with the Albuquerque City Council pointing out that they are the ones that have the budget responsibility to fully address our public safety needs.
If Keller feels we need a public safety tax for police and the DOJ reforms, he should advocate its enactment by the City Council and not put it to a public vote.
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 few mayors have found out the job is way too close to the garbage cans and the job turned out not to be what they expected.
Incentives could have kept officers on force
By Levi Borunda / Retired Albuquerque Police Officer
Saturday, December 30th, 2017 at 12:02am
When I retired from the Albuquerque Police Department in 2016, I did so with mixed feelings. On one hand, I loved serving the Albuquerque community in my role as an officer in a department filled with wonderful women and men who are dedicated to keeping Albuquerque safe. I also knew that most of Albuquerque’s citizens had faith in us, in our integrity and our commitment to them.
However, I also believed the department was moving in the wrong path, exemplified by lack of clear direction in the face of a Department of Justice settlement agreement, as well as an apparent unwillingness to incentivize experienced officers to stay on with APD. There was also the associated issue of lack of personnel, which often made the job of a uniformed officer very dangerous. Lastly, when the New Mexico state Legislature enacted necessary reforms to the Public Employment Retirement Association’s cost-of-living adjustments, they obviously didn’t consider the effects that these changes could have on law enforcement retirements. In my own situation, if I didn’t retire before June 1, 2016, I was looking at having to wait seven years before I received a small increase in my retirement pay when I finally did retire.
What would have encouraged me and other officers in my situation to stay with APD? I can truly only answer for myself, but I’ve spoken with individuals who left APD around the same time I did, and I think a combination of serious recruitment efforts along with some monetary incentives would have gone a long way in keeping us motivated to remain beyond our retirement dates. About two years before I retired, the city gave officers with 18 or more years in PERA a monthly longevity stipend, and I observed that many officers who would have retired stayed on instead, which helped our staffing levels. This incentive also went to senior command officials, a decision I don’t think was popular with either the public or rank-and-file officers. In fact, when the incentive quickly went away for regular line officers, the city continued paying this stipend to high-ranking officials, which didn’t sit well with me.
In my retirement letter to then-Chief Gorden Eden, I communicated that I would consider delaying my retirement if the city would offer a monetary offset to the negative financial impact of the PERA cost-of-living extension. I never got an answer, and I quietly retired. God bless the brave men and women who remain in the fight to keep Albuquerque safe and secure; there are just not enough of them to keep up with the growing crime problems facing us today and in the future.