Firefighters, Bureaucracy and the Budget
The last council meeting of 2016
Hats off to our firefighters. At their Dec. 19 regular meeting, Albuquerque City Councilors gave accolades and a standing ovation to the many firefighters who battled the Carlisle Condominium blaze last month. At least 40 firefighters with 15 trucks, pumpers and other firefighting apparatus kept the massive inferno from taking out other nearby residences, businesses and buildings including a historic church. The luxury condominium complex, located at Central and Carlisle, in the heart of Nob Hill, was under construction when an alleged serial arsonist lit a fire resulting in more than $9 million in damages. Kenny Hinkes, the developer behind the luxury condo project, has already begun the rebuilding process.
State Auditor Tim Keller delivered some shameful news in person. Auditor Keller said after doing a statewide audit of unprocessed sexual assault kits, New Mexico is the worst state in the nation, per capita, for its backlog of 5,302 unprocessed kits going back 28 years. “Each kit is important, each kit is a victim,” Keller said. Albuquerque had 3,948 untested kits as of December 31, 2015. New Mexico’s number is about 100 more per capita than Michigan, the second worst state. The number of kits that need testing continues to rise daily as the city tries to keep up with the new kits sent into evidence each day. Sexual assault is alarmingly high in our state: Statistically, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 20 men have been sexually assaulted as some point in their lives. In 83 percent of these cases, the victim reportedly knew the offender. Keller said that APD has no plan to end the backlog, but he encouraged the Council to pursue all avenues of funding to get money to clear the backlog and administer a sustainable process.
He said it will take about $6 million—or $1.2 million allocated over five years—to clear the backlog. The average cost per kit to process ranges from $1,000 to $1,500, Keller also reported. Meanwhile, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry and a representative from the Albuquerque police crime lab defended the city’s lack of plan. “It is a troubling issue,” Perry said. “There are 400,000 untested rape kits nationally.”
Perry reminded the Council that the crime lab has to keep up with current high priority cases as well as try to handle the backlog. “We need to decide what resources and funding we are going to put towards the back log,” Perry said. Connie Monahan, statewide Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner coordinator said, “Nothing is getting done. We need accountability, this is unacceptable.”
APD Commander Jeff McDonald also gave a brief update on what the department is doing to address the problem. McDonald said they are applying for several grants, have changed training protocols and are working through the bid process so APD can send some of the kits to out-of-state labs. He said there should be some progress within three months.
Councilors consequently introduced a measure that will outline how Albuquerque will prioritize and resolve the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits. The bill says a multi-jurisdiction board will work together to not only outline a plan but to track progress.
The bill says all new sexual assault kits shall be analyzed within three months of submission. There is a provision to look at creating a scholarship, student loan pay-off or other incentive program to increase the number of students at Central New Mexico Community College completing crime lab degree programs. Legislative funding initiatives and the assertive pursuit of federal grants aim to help eliminate the nationwide embarrassment.
Councilor Diane Gibson said accountability at the Albuquerque police crime lab is key and so is the opportunity for improvement. The bill will be taken up at the Jan. 4 meeting.
Albuquerque Fire Department Station 4 will soon get a new rescue unit. In 2013, Station 4—located near Fourth Street and I-40—had to give up its rescue truck to Fire Station 17 to help with an equipment shortage on the West Side.
But things can get rough in Station 4’s district which takes in a good stretch of I-40, along with servicing a number of homeless and behavioral health service centers located in and around Downtown. This busy area of the city requires a dedicated rescue unit at the station. The Council approved a new vehicle on Monday. The new truck should be here mid-January.
City Budget Officer Gerald Romero got grilled over a projected revenue shortfall of at least $6 million. Romero said the shortfall is due to lower than expected gross receipts taxes which are collected from businesses for goods and services sold.
Councilor Ken Sanchez was alone in his idea of a tax increase or other revenue enhancements. Mayor Richard Berry’s minions told the Council to chill and not add any new costs if possible for the next couple months until city bean counters get a better idea of the shortfall.
Finally, councilors went into executive session to discuss pending litigation in two cases—Seymour v. City of Albuquerque and Healthy Workforce ABQ, et al v. The City Of Albuquerque, et al. Upon their return to the Council chambers, they promised that they only talked about the above items. And with that, Council President Isaac Benton ended the meeting and said, “Best wishes for a happy holiday for everyone.”