On January 21, 2020, the 30-day New Mexico legislative session begins. The 30-day session is referred to as the “short session” which are held in even number years while 60-day sessions occur in odd number years. Thirty-day sessions are limited to budgetary matters and issues approved for consideration and placed on what is referred to as the Governor’s call.
MAYOR TIM KELLER’S LEGISLATIVE WISH LIST
On December 2, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller revealed his legislative priorities for the upcoming 2020 New Mexico Legislative session that starts on January, 21. Keller said his top priority will again be public safety. His requests include $10 million for his violence intervention programs and $20 million for modernizing crime fighting technology and to “modernize” APD’s data reporting system. Keller said $20 million dollars will go to changing the way police file reports and produce crime stats and how they connect all the crime-fighting data into one.
Mayor Keller’s request in funding was made within days after it was revealed Keller released statistics and crime rates that were seriously flawed and inflated showing dramatic reductions in crime not at all accurate. The crime rate fiasco was attributed to antiquated data collection systems.
In a Channel 7 interview the Governor signaled her support of Mayor Keller’s request for the funding in the 2020 legislative session and said:
“I want the mayor to be unabashed. He needs to have the tools and the resources, and we all need to be accountable.”
You can review related news reports here:
REQUESTED UPGRADE INCLUDES GPS FOR DISPATCH
The $20 million in upgrades in the city’s existing crime-fighting technology being requested by the Mayor Keller from the New Mexico Legislature includes upgrades to the Albuquerque Police Departments (APD) computer and records systems. The systems are used by APD police in their assigned squad cars and the mobile crime scene units. It also includes funding for new technology in gunshot detection devices and license plate scanners.
Major upgrade funding is being sought for APD’s 911 dispatching capabilities to include Global Positioning System (GPS). As it exists today, when a call is made to 911, the answering dispatcher will dispatch a police officer usually based on availability regardless of how far away the officer is.
Each time a 911 call is answered by dispatch, the call can get routed through the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) where upon RTCC analysts work through different records systems to find out as much background about who the call is made about so that the information can be relayed to the dispatched police officer. Such background information is critical to the police officer to know what they may be dealing with, including identifying a violent offender or a person who is mentally ill.
APD Commander Chris George of the Scientific Evidence Division explained it this way:
“Right now, the  dispatcher says ‘OK, this officer is not on a call, we’ll use him or her. They’ll be on the way over.”
The goal of APD is to improve existing software and purchase new software, where APD’s various systems will be integrated and will be able to quickly compile information on an address or a call before an officer heads out to take the call.
According to Commander George, police departments across the country have GPS integrated into to their computer dispatch systems so the officer closest to a call is the police officer sent to an emergency call.
ONE ALBUQUERQUE FOUNDATION
Last year on January 7, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller announced the creation of the One Albuquerque Foundation. It’s a foundation formed by the city to collect donations from the general public to support city initiatives. According to the city’s website page:
“… the endowment Fund raises funds in support of and to supplement measurable city priorities, including the housing voucher program for people experiencing homelessness, recruiting and retaining public safety officers, expanding opportunities for young people in Albuquerque, and equipping our workforce with the skills they need to succeed. Additional funding for these priorities will accelerate progress and help scale significant investments the City is already making go much farther, much faster.”
The web page described the fund as akin to the Mayor’s Charity Ball which raised money to be distributed to charitable efforts. It really is not, because with the Mayor’s Charity ball, money was raised and then given to charitable causes, while the One Albuquerque Fund collects donations for the city and gives it to city priorities.
On August 13, 2019, it was reported that the One Albuquerque Foundation had raised $17,000 and paid housing vouchers to help the homeless.
On January 6, 2020, a year from the date it was created, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference at a Downtown restaurant attended by city officials and members of the business community to formally launch the “One Albuquerque Fund”. Mayor Keller announced that since the One Albuquerque Fund was announced, the fund has raised $200,000. According to Charles Ashley III, the One Albuquerque Foundation president, none of the money currently in the fund came from diverting money from existing city programs.
During the press conference, the foundation presented checks of $5,000 to fund APD police recruitment efforts and $20,000 to provide additional housing vouchers for the homeless. The foundation’s board of directors has identified four areas that it wants to provide funding to:
1. Police recruitment
2. Job training
3. Homeless and
4. Youth initiatives
During the press conference Mayor Tim Keller had this to say about the One Albuquerque Foundation:
“[This is] the best way for the city to partner with businesses, individuals, nonprofits and foundations, because we’re all in this together as One Albuquerque. [It allows the city to better] facilitate public-private partnerships to deal with some of our biggest issues.”
CITY “BLOATED WITH CASH”
In May, 2018, 5 months after he assumed office, Mayor Tim Keller signed into law a gross receipt sales tax increase enacted by the City Council. 70% of the tax was dedicated to public safety. The tax raises $55 million a year in revenue. Keller broke a campaign promise not to raise taxes, even for public safety, without a public vote. The rational for the tax increase was that the city was faced with a $40 million dollar deficit. The deficit never materialized and the tax increase was not repealed.
The City of Albuquerque has an operating budget of $1.1 billion for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2019 and ends on June 30, 2020. It was the first time in city history that the city operating budget exceed the $1 Billion figure. The 2019-2020 budget represented an overall 11% increase in spending over the previous year.
In April, 2019 a onetime $34.4 million dollar windfall to the city was reported from what was called an “orphan month”. The $34.3 million “one-time, lifetime” boost in revenues could not be applied by the city toward recurring costs. $29 million of the $34.3 million was applied to numerous one-time investments the Keller Administration felt important, including $6 million for public safety vehicles such as police cars for new police cadets, $2.3 million for park security, $2 million for the business recruitment and growth and $2 million for housing vouchers and related programs.
On October 7, 2019 the City Council approved a $30.5 million “Sports -Tourism” lodger tax package on a unanimous vote submitted Mayor Keller to upgrade and build sports facilities throughout the city. Revenue generated by the lodger’s tax will be used to pay off the $30.5 million bond debt. Lodger tax revenues are supposed to be used to promote tourism and tourism functions and facilities; not general sports venues used by the general public.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
There is no doubt that the dispatch and computer upgrades are necessary. Recruiting police officers for and understaffed department is also very important. The real question is why should the New Mexico Legislature fund them given the way the city is so bloated with money?
Albuquerque Police Department has a total operating budget of $209,852,000. Mayor Keller’s Administration is to spending $88 million dollars starting last year in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, over a four-year period, with $32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, which includes recruitment funding, to hire 322 sworn officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers.
The massive investment in APD is being done in order to full fill Mayor Tim Keller’s 2017 campaign promise to increase the size of APD and return to community-based policing as a means of reducing the city’s high crime rates. Last year’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget provided for increasing APD funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. This year’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget has funding for 1,040 sworn police.
Mayor Keller has been given everything he has wanted for public safety and then some by the Albuquerque City Council, including money for equipment and recruitment. It is difficult to understand and justify Mayor Keller seeking $20 million more from the Governor and the New Mexico legislature to “modernize” the police department records keeping and 911 dispatch. The funding should come from the city’s general fund, and the $55 million dollar a year gross receipts tax enacted less than 2 years ago that dedicates 70% to public safety. The communication upgrades need to be included in the 2020-2021 budget that Keller will be submitting on April 1 for approval by the City Council with new budget to go into effect on July 1, 2020.
THE FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICE DIVISION
The Family and Community Service Division of the City of Albuquerque has an annual approved operating budget of $79.7 million. The city spends $8 million a year to provide 775 vouchers for rental assistance and to move homeless people from the street into housing. In the 2019-2020 approved city budget, an additional $2 million was added to the fund which allowed another 125 to 150 people to get into housing.
Highlights to the increases in social services provided by the Family and Community Service Division contained in the 2019-2020 approved budget include:
$15 million in affordable housing contracts.
$8.2 million in homeless services.
$5.7 million in mental health and substance abuse contracts.
$18.2 million for homeless and behavioral health programs. Prior to the enactment of the gross receipts tax increase, these programs were originally projected to be cut by $2 million.
$1 million and over in funding of early intervention and prevention programs, domestic violence shelters, domestic violence services, sexual assault services, services to abused and for neglected and abandoned youth
ONE ALBUQUERQUE FOUNDATION
The biggest argument that is being made for the creation of the One Albuquerque Fund by the city is that institutions such as the Albuquerque Public Schools, Central New Mexico Community College and the University of New Mexico all have their own foundations to support those entities and the City of Albuquerque should have its own foundation. The argument is bogus. The City has unilateral taxing authority that can be enacted by the City Council whenever it chooses while all the other institutions must rely upon the New Mexico Legislature for their funding.
It is difficult to understand Mayor Keller’s motivation with One Albuquerque Foundation when he says “[This is] the best way for the city to partner with businesses, individuals, nonprofits and foundations … .” No its not. The Albuquerque Community Foundation has been in existence for decades that is doing many of the things being suggested for One Albuquerque. Charitable donations from the general public are difficult enough as it is for private charitable organizations such as the United Way and the Albuquerque Community Foundation and now they have to compete with the Mayor’s One Albuquerque Foundation so he can say “we are all in this together”. The “United Way” charitable foundation sends the very same message and at one time city hall employees were allowed to participate in “United Way” fundraising and it was discontinued by Keller’s predecessor.
Contained in Mayor Keller’s $88 million-dollar APD expansion program with the $32 million dollars of recurring expenditures is funding for officer recruitment. It is difficult to understand why the One Albuquerque Foundation feels the need to make any donation, even as small as $5,000 for police recruitment given the millions being dedicated to APD. Further, $20,000 to provide additional housing vouchers for the homeless no doubt is an amount that again should have been absorbed by the Family and Community Services Department.
It is a pathetic practice for any government entity to solicit donations from the public to carry out is duties and responsibilities to the public, especially when it has already allocated millions to specific causes. The City of Albuquerque is bloated with a $1.1 Billion Budget, a $55 Million Tax Increase revenues, $35 Million Orphan Month Windfall as well as $30.5 million in lodger tax bond revenues, yet Mayor Keller’s budget and financial management approach to ask for even more funding from the New Mexico legislature and for a charitable foundation. Such a request reflects a total disconnect from reality. It reflects management negligence and an inability to live within one means and always demanding more.
The creation, purpose and intent of the One Albuquerque Foundation is a noble cause so long as the foundation money is not utilized for essential services and government functions that are already covered and paid for in the city’s $1.1 billion dollar budget and that are arguably charitable in nature, such as vouchers and housing for homeless and youth initiatives. Police recruitment, job training and vouchers for the homeless are among those priorities already budgeted for by the city and contributions have already been made in a sense in the form of the taxes we pay. The Albuquerque One Foundation with the $200,000 collected is not going to have much of an impact on the needs of a city that has a $1.1 Billion dollar budget.
On April 1, 2020 Mayor Tim Keller will be submitting the administration’s annual budget. It anticipated that the $1.1 billion city hall budget will increase even more. One thing to look for is funding for the updating of the city’s computer dispatch center and the funding being provided to the causes the One Albuquerque Foundation has made contributions to.