City finances have been totally upended as a result of the corona virus pandemic. The virus has impacted the city economy and in turn the city gross receipts tax returns have declined. Under normal circumstances, the Mayor submits a proposed budget on April 1, the city council conducts hearings, makes adjustments and enacts a budget that becomes effective July 1.
On March 16, 2020, the New Mexico Department of Finance Local Government Division authorized New Mexico municipalities to submit their last year’s fiscal budget for 2019-2020 budget as their fiscal budget for year 2020-2021 until reliable tax revenue projections could be determined. That is exactly what the City Council did. On April 13, 2020, on a unanimous vote of 9-0, the Albuquerque City Council enacted R-20-31 enacted an interim operating budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The budget resolution enacted was a “bare bones budget” consisting of only 7 pages of line item appropriations for each of the city departments with no explanation or elaboration on the actual use of the millions appropriated.
On Thursday September 3, and after a 6-month delay, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to release the long anticipated proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The new fiscal year began on July 1, 2020 and ends June 30, 2021. Mayor Keller’s total proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year was $1.15 Billion which is slightly more than the 2019-2020 budget by about $50 Million. The budget is a 266-page document that gives a detail budget for each of city departments. The City Budget is a “performance based” budget where each department prepares an analysis and listing of accomplishments from the previous years. Not surprising, public safety and APD continued to be a top priority for the 3rd year in a row for the Keller Administration.
The link to the 2020-2021 proposed adjusted budget is here:
COUNCIL ENACTS 2020-2021 BUDGET Of $1.1 Billion
Since its introduction on September 3, the Albuquerque City Council has been conducting hearings on the proposed budget and made significant changes including major cuts to the original proposed budget. The budget hearing concluded on Thursday, October 18 and the final budget was forwarded to the City Council for final adoption.
On Monday, October 19, on an 8-0 vote, with City Councilor Don Harris absent, the Albuquerque City Council enacted the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget with little debate. The newly enacted budget totals $1.1 Billion dollars for second year in a row and for that reason is considered a zero-growth budget. The fiscal year began on July 1 and will end June 30, 2021.
HIGHLIGHTS OF ADOPTED BUDET
The major highlights of the adopted budget include:
CITY COUNCIL GUTS “ALBUQUERQUE COMMUNITY SAFETY” DEPARTMENT
The approved City Council budget guts Mayor Keller’s budget plan for a new “Albuquerque Community Safety” (ACS) department. The ACS as originally presented was to have social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention and diversion program experts. They were to be dispatched to homelessness and “down-and-out” calls as well as behavioral health crisis calls for service to APD. The new department was to connect people in need with services to help address any underlying issues. The department personnel would be dispatched through the city’s 911 emergency call system. The intent is to free up the first responders, either police or firefighters, who typically have to deal with down-and-out and behavioral health calls.
The City Council approved budget slashes Keller’s proposed $7.5 million budget to $2.5 million for fiscal year 2021. The City Council removed virtually all of the positions originally proposed by Keller. Cut from Keller’s proposed budget for the new department were 83 employees and $5 million in staffing costs. The staffing cut include 53 security personnel, 9 parking enforcement employees and 6 people from the city’s crossing guard program. The City Council’s budget gives the department a mere 13 positions. The positions include 7 civilian employees from the APD Crisis Outreach and Support Teams, and 3 Family and Community Services Department staffers which include one social worker and 2 people who respond to homeless encampments.
APD BUDGET INCREASE
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) continues to be the largest budget department in the city with the city council approving a $212 million budget. The approved budget is an increase of 3% from last budget year with nearly $32 million coming from the city’s federal coronavirus relief money.
The new budget for APD contains $10 Million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and “Operation Legend”. The CARES Act funding is earmarked to hire 40 new APD police officers.
The approved budget funds a total of 1,678 full time positions that includes 578 civilian staff and funding for 1,100 sworn police. Currently, APD has 980 sworn police.
The APD approved budget includes:
$2.5 million to support the hiring of 100 new officers, which factors in existing vacancies and savings from retirements and other separations.
$5.2 million for continued work to comply with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice.
$627,000 to acquire electronic control weapons that have an audit trail to monitor usage and compliance with use of force policies.
$594,000 to purchase on-body cameras, as required by the CASA and state law.
$500,000 for the Violence Intervention Program, including restorative justice programs, which has a track record of dramatically reducing violence in cities across the nation.”
The Fiscal Year 2020-2021 approved general fund budget for APD contains a line item of $29,280,000 for “PD-PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY”. The funding is funding for the Compliance Bureau which has 61 sworn police assigned to the APD divisions associated with the Department of Justice Consent Decree reforms and enforcement.
GARBAGE AND RECYCING RATES INCREASE
The city council approved a garbage and recycling collection rate increase raising rates by $2 instead of the $1.55 as was originally requested by the Keller Administration. The monthly residential rate will now be $17. The rate increase is needed to allow the Solid Waste Department to increase its workload maintaining medians, clearing illegal dump sites and more.
NO JOBS LOST, BUT NO RAISES
The City employs upwards of 6,000 full time employees. With the decline in city revenues and the pandemic, the Keller Administration and the City’s Finance Department was very concerned that there would be a need for layoffs and furloughs in order to balance the budget. On Friday, April 17, the Keller Administration announced that the City of Albuquerque had a projected budget shortfall that could last through 2021. The City’s Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said preliminary estimates indicated the city would bring in $600 million in revenue this fiscal year, down from the $627 million projected.
According to Bhakta, the city took steps to lessen the impact of the budget crisis by implementing the following:
The city imposed an aggressive hiring freeze with the exception of public safety
All travel for the remainder of the year was canceled
All city contracts with vendors are being reviewed and cut if necessary
The mayor has ordered his department heads to find cost-saving measures
The 2020-2021 enacted budget was able to avoid layoffs and furloughs in order to balance the budget. The city received $150 million through the CARES Act and is continuing to spend down the balance before the December 30 deadline. City officials credited the $150 million in federal assistance for preventing layoffs and furloughs.
Under the 2020-2021 adopted city council budget, municipal workers will not get a cost-of-living raise. Notwithstanding no raises, the city budget is providing a one-time payment to help each city employee to offset increases in health care insurance coverage.
REACTION TO ENACTED BUDGET
City Council Budget Chairman Isaac Benton had this to say about the enacted budget:
“I think it’s a good budget. It’s mostly, largely, what the mayor proposed. He proposed a good budget. … We’ve tweaked it somewhat, but I think we’re all going the same direction, and that’s a good thing.”
The enacted budget will now go to Mayor Keller for his approval. Keller for his part had this to say:
“We worked closely with City Council throughout this difficult, unprecedented budget cycle. … This financially-sound budget focuses on investing in fighting violent crime, supporting families and small businesses through the pandemic, and strengthens our commitment to public safety with a new cabinet-level department that we will be able to build up over time.”
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
The most critical functions of the Albuquerque City Council are the oversight authority over city finances, all appropriations, the job performance of the various departments and enacting a balanced budget. The oversight authority includes having public hearings on the city’s budget to allow public the opportunity to give input on how the city spends taxpayer money. Further, the budget process is critical to force all city departments to justify their budgets and to adjust department’s budgets as the need mandates it.
A PUBLICITY STUNT FOR A SERIOUS PROBLEM
Mayor Tim Keller secured considerable news coverage nationally back in June when he called the Washington Post on a Sunday to first announce the new “Albuquerque Community Safety” (ACS) department. No one should be surprised at Tim Keller for wanting a national story given his penchant for news coverage, promoting the city and running for a second term.
The new department as originally proposed by Keller was to have 192 employees. Keller cut it to 100 positions and then the City Council gutted it to 13 positions. The projected budget went from $10.9 Million when it was announced by Keller with great fanfare to a Keller proposed budget of $7.5 Million. The City Council has now gutted it to $2.5 Million in the approved budget.
The Albuquerque City Council has caught onto Keller’s publicity seeking ways and is now demanding a more thought-out approach when it comes to creating and funding a whole new department. Now that the new department has been pared down to 13 employees, it really is not a city department.
Mayor Keller must be faulted for the sloppy manner in which his new department was first proposed. The lesson Keller needs to learn is that just because you come up with a great idea that you know will generate press, you need to make sure all the groundwork is in fact done and nothing in the planning and preparation can be left to chance.
People are onto it now that Keller thinks all he has to do is hold a press conference, flash his trademark smile, and all his desires and wishes will materialize. City government just does not work that way. Keller needs to put in the hard work, as does the CAO and department heads to get anything done. You cannot build an entire new city department on a “lick and a promise”, which is exactly what Keller tried to do with his new Community Safety Department. People want results, not public relations.
DOJ CONSENT DECREE STILL HUGE DRAIN ON CITY RESOURCES
In 2017, Candidate Tim Keller campaigned to be elected mayor on the platform of implementing the DOJ mandated reforms, increasing the size of the Albuquerque Police Department, returning to community-based policing and promising to bring down skyrocketing crime rates. To that end, the Keller Administration began implementing an $88 million-dollar APD police expansion program increasing the number of sworn police officers from 898 sworn positions f to 1,200, or by 302 sworn police officers, over a four-year period.
Since Mayor Tim Keller has taken office, APD has added at least 116 sworn police officers to the force. Last year’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget provided for increasing APD funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,053. The approved budget funds a total of 1,678 full time positions that includes 578 civilian staff and funding for 1,100 sworn police. Currently, APD has 980 sworn police.
The Albuquerque City Council also plays a crucial oversight role of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) including controlling its budget. Another critical responsibility of the City Council is to demand that APD be in compliance with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandated reforms. The Court Approved Settlement Agreement was negotiated to be fully implemented within 4 years and after a full two years of compliance, the case is supposed to be dismissed.
The City Council approved 2020-2021 police budget contains $5.2 million ear marked for continued work to comply with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice. The city has already paid the federal monitor $4.5 Million over the last six years. The $212 million dollar plus APD budget also includes another $800,000 more to be paid to the Federal Monitor whose only function is to compile data.
It has now been 6 years since the settlement with the DOJ was negotiated. The biggest complaint of all the DOJ consent decrees in the country is implementation and enforcement “go on and on” for years, costing millions in taxpayer dollars. The approved $29,280,000 for “PD-PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY contained in the 2020-2021 budget for Professional Accountability and the 61 sworn police assigned to enforce the CASA reforms reflects the continuous drain on city finances and resources that could be better utilized for essential services. The amount demands a full explanation as to why complete compliance with the CASA has not been achieved by the APD command staff after a full 6 years.
After 3 years of the Keller Administration, the Albuquerque City Council is finally acting like a governing body with enactment of a responsible balanced budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The real question is, how long will it last? The Federal Monitors 12 report on the DOJ reforms is due to be filed in early November. It is genuinely hoped that the City Council take a far more active role in reviewing the report and demand far more accountability from APD management and determine exactly why the CASA reforms have not been achieved by the APD command staff after a full 6 years.