Thin Dimes and Dollar Menus
By Carolyn Carlson
City Hall was packed with hundreds of people calling for a fair deal at an April 22 budget hearing before the Committee of the Whole.
“We are eating off the dollar menu when we even get a chance to eat out,” said Steve Griego, who represented the city’s rank-and-file unions.
Another city employee said the mayor should pitch in and give up some of his freebies, such as a free car, gas and parking.
According to the city’s financial gurus and their PowerPoint presentations, there is not even one thin dime to spare in the upcoming 2010-2011 budget. Mayor Richard Berry’s administration does not want to raise taxes to breach the void of $60 million dollars.
City agencies, museums and service providers are being asked to work with less. City employees are looking at across-the-board cuts of between 3 percent and 10 percent. Social services, such as substance abuse treatment, will take a 5 percent hit. Museums could lose up to 18 percent.
Representatives from several social service agencies said that, as it is, their operations are barely making it on tight budgets. Lisa Huval, representing the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said it does not make sense to drain more money from these programs when need is growing due to the recession.
City councilors zeroed in on certain social services and a couple of the city’s museums. They asked why cuts were so deep when these resources are vital to residents and the museums are earning their keep. City administration did not have many answers, but they did offer to meet with councilors and others to come to a compromise.
Members of the Council asked Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz about cuts to his budget and the cost of maintaining 1,100 officers. They asked if APD is still hiring double-dippers. Schultz said no rehires have been added to the police force during 2010.
Committee chairman Councilor Don Harris tried to keep the feisty crowd calm, but at times the public comments were accented by applause even after Harris issued several reminders to keep the clapping down.
Councilors did not make any decisions on the proposed budget. There will be one more opportunity for public comment on Thursday, May 6. The Council will then recommend amendments on Thursday, May 20. A final budget will be up for approval Monday, May 24.
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