The upcoming November 5, 2019 election will be the first consolidated elections for the City of Albuquerque. The ballot is lengthy and will include 4 City Council races, $127 million in city general obligation (GO) improvement bonds, continuation of a city road tax, the Albuquerque Public School Board, a continuation of a tax levy for APS school maintenance, and the CNM governing board.
General obligation bonds provide funding for essential services such as police and fire protection but also funding for projects that contribute to a city’s quality of life, such as museums and libraries.
There are complicated requirements associated with general obligation bonds and general obligation bonds (GO Bonds) must be voted on by the public. General obligation bonds have major safeguards to protect the public with restrictions in place on how the bond funding must be dedicated and used.
“General obligation” bonds are subject to voter approval every 2 years to fund various city capital projects. On February 8, 2019, the Keller Administration submitted to the Albuquerque City Council the “2019 Decade Plan and General Obligation Bond Program”. The released “2019 Decade Plan” lists taxpayer funded bond projects for the next 10 years.
You can read the entire 147 page “2019 Decade Plan and General Obligation Bond Program” here:
Not all the general bond funding is voted upon at once but voted upon in incremental amounts every two years. The City Council held hearings and in March determined what bonds would be placed on the November 5, ballot. The City Council approved $127 million in projects to be place on the ballot for final voter approval.
GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS ON NOVEMBER 5 BALLOT
The November 5, 2019 general obligation bonds submitted contains upwards of $50 million in community facilities that includes $14 million for the proposed emergency shelter for homeless facility, $5 million going to affordable housing projects and $2.8 million for Community, Health, Social Services Centers.
Following is a further break down summary of the major General Obligation bonds the city is requesting be approved by voters:
$21.7 million for “senior, family, community center, homeless and community enhancement bonds.” $14 million in bonds are designated for the centralized, 24 hour a day, 7 days a week homeless shelter. (Bond Question 2)
$8.6 million for “public safety” to improve and acquire property, including land, vehicles and equipment, for the police and fire departments.
$16.8 million in parks and recreation funding. These bonds include $1.5 million for a Westside Indoor Sports Complex
$32.9 million for important street improvement projects, including widening Westside Boulevard between Golf Course and N.M. 528.
$8.8 million for public libraries. These bonds include $5.5 million for the International District Library which will be build on the old “Caravan East” property on Central the city acquired.
$13 million toward the historic Rail Yards property through 2029.
$11 million for various projects at the Albuquerque Museum over the next decade.
$7.8 million for two storm drainage and pump station projects.
$7 million for a new APD southeast substation at Kathryn and San Mateo.
$5 million in funding for Family & Community Services Section 8 Affordable Housing.
$2.8 million for Community, Health, Social Services Centers.
$1.7 million for a North Domingo Baca swimming pool.
$1 million Cibola Loop library.
$1 million a West Central Visitor Center.
TRANSPORTATION TAX RENEWAL ON THE BALLOT
On the November 5 ballot is the transportation tax renewal measure which will keep a gross receipts tax of ¼ of a penny in place to continue providing critical funding for road infrastructure, the city transit or bus system, trails and bike-ways. It guarantees funding to keep the city’s roads repaired and drivable.
MAYOR KELLER PROMOTES HOMELESS SHELTER FUNDING
Mayor Tim Keller is actively seeking voter approval of $14 million centralized homeless shelter that would provide job training and behavioral health and treatment services for 300 people. The funding for the shelter is contained in Bond Question 2, tied in with more than $21 million in general obligation bonds to improve senior and community centers.
The single most controversial question concerns the homeless shelter’s future location. The city has announced it does not plan to work on identifying a location until after voters approve the funding. According to Mayor Keller, experts will scout out different locations that will go through public comment and the city council. Keller promises the site selection will be an open and public process. When asked whether or not it’s fair to ask people to fund the project when they don’t know where it’s going to be built, the mayor responded by saying:
“It is. It’s kind of the chicken and the egg. You either have to fund it first or tell people where it’s going to be located first. … No one wants anything uncomfortable in their neighborhood and I’m no different. Everyone feels that way, but our city has to step up and deal with these challenges.”
Mayor Keller said “No decision has been made [as to location of the homeless shelter]. In fact, there hasn’t been any formal research done on locations. … We decided that, fundamentally, the voters need to say are we going to invest in homelessness and, if the answer is yes, we’ll go through a public process and of course go through city council and have multiple locations that people can evaluate in a public way.”
The Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance, a coalition of 57 downtown business owners upset with the number of homeless in the down town area they feel are ruining their businesses, was formed to advocate and raise funding for a remote homeless campus. According to Connie Vigil, the spokesperson for the group and a District 2 city council candidate, there are too many unknowns about the city’s current proposal, notably where it will go, and feels a stronger analysis is necessary by saying:
“Just like [Albuquerque Rapid Transit] , they said they worked on it for six years and here’s what we have to show for it [a long-delayed bus line down Central Avenue.]
CIRCUMVENTING THE VOTERS
Over the past 4 years, both Mayors Berry and Keller and the City Council have taken unilateral action to circumvent voter input, not placed projects or tax increases on the ballot for voter approval, and have allocated funding or raised taxes for various reasons and pet projects.
Since 2015 , the Albuquerque City Council voted repeatedly to allocate funding for the $120 million disastrous ART Bus project that has destroyed the character of Route 66. The City Council refused to put the ART Bus project on the ballot for public approval proclaiming it was the Mayor’s project. The City Council voted to spend federal grant money that had yet to be appropriated by congress. ART has a negative impact on Central resulting in several businesses going out of business. Many central businesses and Nob Hill businesses, no longer exist because of the ART Bus Project.
In January, 2017, it was reported that the former Republican Mayor Berry and the Albuquerque City Council borrowed over $63 million dollars over two years to build pickle ball courts, baseball fields and the ART bus project down central by bypassing the voters. The $65 million dollars was borrowed with the Albuquerque City Councilors voting to use revenue bonds as the financing mechanism to pay for big capital projects. Revenue bonds are repaid with gross receipts tax revenues. The City Council authorized $18 million dollars in revenue bonds for financing a variety of projects and the city will be making annual payments for 22 years until 2038, which is beyond the useful life of many of the projects funded. For full story see “BYPASSING the Voters” at this link:
In 2017 while running for Mayor, candidate Tim Keller promised he would never raise taxes unless there was a public vote. A few months later after being elected, Mayor Keller a signed a city council-initiated $55 million dollar a year tax increase and broke his campaign promise not to raise gross receipts taxes without a public vote. The increased tax revenues raised was supposed to go towards a projected $40 million deficit which never materialized. The city’s gross receipts tax revenues from the state have increased, with critics asserting that there was no need for the tax increase in the first place.
October 7, 2019, the City Council approved Mayor Tim Keller’s $30.5 million “Sports -Tourism” lodger tax package on a unanimous vote to upgrade and build sports facilities throughout the city. Lodgers tax revenues will be used to pay off the $30.5 million bond debt. The Lodgers Tax Advisory Board (LTBA) said they knew absolutely nothing about the lodger’s tax plan until Mayor Tim Keller announced it on Sept. 7 in a press release. The problem is, revenue generated by the city’s lodger tax is supposed to be used for “advertising, advertising, publicizing and promoting tourist-related attractions, facilities and events.” Seven of the 10 projects are not tourism related and are used overwhelming by the general public and not the tourist industry, nor by the hotel or lodger industry.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
In New Mexico, a “political movida” is where elected officials and politicians say one thing, even lie, mislead, misinform or break political promises to get what they want. Past conduct of Mayor Keller and City council are brought up because of their conduct relating to the proposed funding for the homeless shelter.
The single most controversial bonds are the $14 million designated for a centralized, 24 hour, 7 day a week homeless shelter. The problem is that the $14 million in funding is buried in Bond Question 2, the $21.7 million bonds for “senior, family, community center, homeless and community enhancement bonds”. This was an intentional “political movida” by city hall to increase the chances of funding and passage by the voters.
The bond issue should have been a stand alone funding proposal and identifying an exact location. Mayor Keller has acknowledged that a location has not been identified but promises, like the tax increase he signed breaking his promise not to raise taxes without a vote, that public input will be taken into consideration.
The city’s West Side Emergency Housing Center is the old west side jail that was closed for decades and then later converted for winter shelter for the homeless. One of the community jail pods has wooden cubicles constructed in order to give the homeless a little privacy. The west side facility is deteriorating needing major repairs and remodeling for use. The West Side Facility is not sustainable, it is 20 miles from downtown where the city transports by shuttle the homeless. It costs the city $4 million dollars a year to operate the West Side Emergency Shelter and upwards of $1 million of that is spent to transport people back and forth to the facility.
The Homeless Shelter is controversial not because it’s actually needed but because neighborhoods and many charitable homeless providers object to location or the need for a centralized facility somewhere within the city. It is a classic case of “Not In My Back Yard” Syndrome. A coalition of 57 downtown business owners was formed to deal with the number of homeless and providers in the downtown area that they feel are ruining their businesses. When Keller says “No one wants anything uncomfortable in their neighborhood and I’m no different” reflects why he did not want location on the ballot along with the funding. In other words, Keller recognizes the problem yet wants voters to trust the city and vote for funding first and worry about location later.
At a recent District 2 City Council debate held in the Saw Mill Area, the topic of locating the homeless shelter in the Saw Mill area drew sharp and strong opposition. City hall insiders are reporting that land south of Lomas and east of downtown the possible shelter location. There are large swaths of vacant land owned by University of New Mexico which could partner with the city and University Hospital. The biggest problem is will neighbor hoods and other property owners oppose the use of the land being used as a homeless shelter..
Mayor Keller has made the shelter a major priority and he views it as critical step toward tackling the city’s homelessness crisis, and this is absolutely correct. See related blog article: https://www.petedinelli.com/2018/08/30/we-have-moral-obligation-to-help-our-homeless/ Once built, it will be a centralized, 24 hour a day facility to “temporarily shelter” 300 people with the plan to connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. It would replace an existing city shelter on the far West Side. The new facility would serve all populations of men, women, and their families.
The building of a new and permanent emergency shelter has been planned now for a few years. The city hopes to break ground on a centralized 300-bed facility shelter in Albuquerque as early as 2021. The shelter would be opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to help families with children and single adults. Building a permanent shelter is a major goal to move people from the streets into permanent housing.
During the 2019 New Mexico Legislature, the city secured $1 million in capital outlay money to start the architectural design for the facility. Another $14 million for construction is needed. It is very disappointing that the city has not been upfront on the locations being considered so that a more informed decision could be made by the public.
From police and fire department equipment needs, street maintenance and improvements, public parks and recreation projects, bus and public transit priorities, libraries and museums, social services to the homeless and poor and community facilities will all be funded by the general obligation bonds being proposed. This is how it is meant and should be done!
It is clear that all the projects and the funding that is being requested for voter approval are needed, even for the 24 hour, 7 day a week homeless shelter. All the general obligation bonds should be enacted. By law the monies raised must be applied towards the specific projects and cannot be diverted elsewhere. The transportation tax is also clearly needed to continue to maintain our city streets.
If the general obligation bond package for the homeless shelter does not pass on November 5, Mayor Keller and the Albuquerque City Council need to be held responsible for not placing it on the ballot as a standalone project with a location identified. More importantly, the Mayor and City Council need to be prevented from reverting to the old and very bad financing scheme of revenue bonds to get what they want and ignore the public to get built the projects they want.
Of all the initiatives on the ballot, the road tax enactment is probably the most critical. Street construction, continued maintenance and repair are some of the most critical essential service for a growing and thriving city. The transportation tax renewal measure which will keep a gross receipts tax of ¼ of a penny in place to continue providing critical funding for road infrastructure, the city transit or bus system, trails and bikeways. It guarantees funding to keep the city’s roads repaired and drivable.
On November 5, Please vote YES to approve the $127 million in city general obligation (GO) improvement bonds and transportation tax renewal.
For related blog articles see:
City Council Priorities Versus Mayor Priorities Are Clearly Different