As the City continues with grand ambitions, including annexation and various development project, it has missed a State-mandated June 1 deadline for filing its fiscal budget.
The Albuquerque Journal North
June 2, 2009
No Budget This Time, Either
By Kiera Hay
After two hours of some of its most acrimonious discussion yet, the Santa Fe City Council on Monday once again failed to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Measures including mandatory furloughs for department managers were proposed by city staff as part of a last-minute plan to shave an extra $1 million from the coming fiscal year budget. That didn't appear to appease councilors, some of whom want broader organizational changes and the elimination of jobs deemed superfluous. Councilors Matthew Ortiz, Rebecca Wurzburger, Carmichael Dominguez, Ron Trujillo and Patti Bushee voted against approving the budget during a special council meeting. Councilors Chris Calvert, Miguel Chavez and Rosemary Romero voted in favor. “This is an election-year budget. The tough calls have not been made,” Bushee said upon casting her vote. After the meeting, Mayor David Coss contended the city had “produced a good budget” and said he was “disappointed at the level of micromanaging the council seems to want to do.” Though councilors have met numerous times to discuss the budget, including several meetings in May, agreement has eluded them. They'll review it again at the June 10 council meeting. Some councilors have expressed dissatisfaction with the process, including specific cost-cutting proposals and delay in getting certain information. But personnel issues especially have been a continuing bone of contention, and the debate got personal Monday. Though the proposed budget would eliminate about 76 currently vacant positions and freeze most new hirings, some councilors, notably Ortiz, have repeatedly voiced a desire to eliminate certain active positions. Other councilors and the mayor, as well as the city staff coordinating the budget, remain opposed to the reduction, at least for this budget cycle. Among jobs targeted are assistant or deputy director positions in the police, fire, solid waste, city clerk, finance, human resources and senior services departments. The majority of the council — Wurzburger, Ortiz, Trujillo, Dominguez and Bushee — agreed to a proposal by Ortiz to eliminate the city's public information officer position, part of a team Ortiz has dubbed “the mayor's press machine.” “There is certainly sufficient expertise on existing staff to cover for the duties and responsibilities of this PIO position,” Ortiz said. The vote for elimination — which can't be considered final because the council didn't approve a budget — came despite strong opposition from Coss and other councilors. Savings would be minimal because the job is being vacated in July and, under current policy, can only be filled if the council gives special approval. Additional proposals by Ortiz to eliminate an assistant human resources director — currently held by a women with several years' experience at the city — and an unfilled deputy police chief position received less enthusiastic receptions. Coss called the proposals “unfortunate.” “We're turning a corner here ... We are at the point where now we're going to take people's jobs away,” he said. “If we could eliminate taking jobs with live bodies in them, I think we should do that.” Other developments included the news that the city's negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees appear to be nearing an end. Human resources director Kristine Kuebli told the Council the two parties agreed Monday afternoon that union workers would receive a 4 percent pay raise but would have to reduce each pay period by three hours. The agreement, which would be analyzed again after six months, must still be ratified by the union and City Council. Contract negotiations with the city's police and fire are still being finalized. The senior management furloughs, which would require department heads to take off 40 hours, would likely save the city about $30,000, Millican said. A second, voluntary furlough program, targeted at all full-time city staff, is “conservatively” anticipated to net about $85,000. In addition to the furloughs, components of a $1.2 million budget reduction offered up by staff included cutting $75,000 from the city's various professional services contracts; eliminating two planner positions in the housing and community development department and land use department; eliminating a full-time culture, arts and tourism planner, but setting aside about $50,000 for contract services related to those duties; and saving $200,000 from a reduced deductible in the city's liability insurance. The suggestions came in the wake of a directive given by the City Council at its May 27 meeting to trim an extra $1 million from a budget that has already been, over the past few months, hacked by several million dollars due to the declining economy. Correction of an error that had included in the city's financial calculations unintended pay increases also nets a savings of about $562,000, around $315,000 of that in the general fund. Savings of $30,000 comes from the decision by assistant fire chief Ted Bolleter to change his planned retirement date. The position will be eliminated once Bolleter retires. All together, new measures proposed Monday create just over $1.2 million in savings, about $800,000 of that in the general fund, though several “add backs” negated most of the general fund savings. The items put back into the budget after previous proposed cuts included around $85,000 in library books and supplies; restoration of children and youth services funding; and $30,000-50,000 for a winter overflow shelter. Councilors tweaked several of the proposals. It was agreed, for instance, that the neighborhood planner position would be maintained. The council also agreed, per a proposal by Coss, to provide the fire department with $400,000 to offset a transfer of the same amount from equipment needs to the airport's new fire station. But, like the PIO elimination, those items can't be considered final until a budget is passed.