Budget OK'd, despite concerns

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By David Giuliani

Some City Council members on Wednesday acknowledged they had problems with the city’s proposed budget, but they unanimously approved the document to meet a state deadline.

In so doing, they requested a work session within the next month to discuss their issues with the budget for this fiscal year, which began July 1.

Just last week, a council majority rejected a first draft of the proposed budget because its drafters had revised the revenue without changing the cash balances and expenses.

Since last week, city staffers and members of the Albuquerque accounting firm, Atkinson and Co., have released three far different numbers for projected revenue for the general fund, which pays for everything from police to parks. The first number had general fund revenue declining from $10.4 million last year to $10 million this year. Then the projection shot up to $11.6 million. For the budget approved Wednesday, it dropped to $11.2 million.

Under the budget, the Police Department, which takes a third of the general fund, will see an increase of 18 percent in its budget. The previous draft called for a 10 percent hike.

Another significant change from last week’s proposal is that the city is budgeting for the administrative fee for natural gas — the percentage of the utility’s revenue going to the city’s general fund — to drop from 10 percent to 9 percent. That fee is included in customers’ bills, although not spelled out specifically.

Officials last year had planned to reduce the fee by a percentage point a year until it dropped to 6 percent. But city staffers last week had planned to keep the percentage the same as last year, with the argument that the budget was too tight.

During the public input portion of the council meeting, only Gretchen Bush of Samaritan House spoke. She has previously requested some city money for her group in its efforts to help the poor. She told the council Wednesday that she was disappointed no funds had been included for her group or Love Your Neighbor, an organization with a similar mission.

“What happened to our priorities?” she asked. “Many live on the borderline of poverty. They’ll both need help during the long winter months ahead.”

Councilman Morris Madrid said he had many questions about the budget but that he wondered if the focus should be on whether the budget met the guidelines set by the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees municipal finances.

The only issue Madrid brought up during the meeting was the lodgers tax, which is collected from those who stay at local motels. According to the proposed budget, revenue was projected to increase from $264,000 last year to $388,000 this year.

Officials explained to him that the revenue included a carryover of $178,000 from the last fiscal year. Madrid said he would like to see that spelled out in the budget because it looked as if the city were predicting a huge increase in lodging business.

Councilwoman Diane Moore said she, too, had many questions — 38 in all. But she proposed the council sign off on the budget for the purposes of meeting the state deadline, which requires submission of the budget by today.

Madrid said he backed Moore’s suggestion to approve the budget, but he wanted a work session in the next 30 days for finance issues.

The council voted unanimously for the budget, along with holding a work session.