Alibi V.18 No.15 • April 9-15, 2009 

Council Watch

Mayor to Workers: About That Raise ...

Albuquerque city councilors were in a laid-back mood when they trimmed their lengthy agenda to less than a handful of items during the Monday, April 6 meeting. Before getting any real work done, they heard public comments for a couple of hours. Many speakers focused on funding city parks, but there were also remarks from blue-collar city employees protesting the mayor’s belt-tightening request.

Mayor Martin Chavez asked rank-and-file city workers to give up their promised 3 percent annual raise (due in July) and wait until January 2010 for an increase. Speakers said this plan would hurt those who do the most work to keep the city running smoothly. The mayor has said he made his entreaty to balance the upcoming fiscal year's finances without layoffs or drastic cutbacks.

This quiet meeting also dealt with approving a long consent agenda consisting of accepting grant money, approving reports and doling out city contracts.

After some discussion, the Council voted 6-3 to approve some new zoning designations that will make it easier for property owners to develop their land with pedestrian-friendly design. "Form-based zoning," as it's called, is a new concept for the city. Under it, regulations will lean more toward looking at how plans fit in with surrounding neighborhoods and not only at how property will be used.

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The Council tackled Chavez’ proposed $160 million capital outlay budget, which sets 10 years’ worth of priorities for brick-and-mortar projects citywide. Councilors submitted substitutions to the mayor’s proposal. Voters will be asked to approve the bond expenditures on the October ballot.

The Mayor’s Office contends there is $160 million available for projects without raising taxes. Chavez’ version included about $13 million for a wading lagoon at Tingley Beach and a Westside soccer complex, but it cut funding for other parks. One version by Councilor Ken Sanchez set aside money for the wading lagoon. Another proposed by Councilor Brad Winter did not. But both reinstated funding for a number of city parks that were cut from the mayor’s suggested budget.

Winter’s $155 million version of the bill beat out both the mayor’s and Sanchez’ and went up for approval.
Councilors approved Winter’s budget in a 7-2 vote, sending it back to the mayor without the approval of Sanchez or Councilor Don Harris. They said the bill was a good one and they hoped to see the Tingley Beach project back on the planning board in the future.

Councilor Debbie O’Malley said it was too bad there was not enough money to fund all the projects, but in the end, “even the mayor should be proud of this piece of legislation.”

Harris, Sanchez and Council President Isaac Benton said they wanted to see the Tingley Beach project revisited because the wading lagoon is an important part of the city’s history. Harris was on the defense about the Tingley Beach proposal and said, “The biggest ideas can be brought down by the smallest minds.”

Councilors Trudy Jones and Sally Mayer said they were excited about the well-rounded, fiscally responsible plan. Jones was particularly happy that the Council was able to fund so many projects across the city and do it for $5 million less than the projected $160 million.
The councilors made an effort to collaborate when coming up with this citywide plan. The dissenting votes of Sanchez and Harris were mostly meant to show support for bringing back a Tingley Beach wading pool.

And since the Council brought this plan in under the proposed $160 million, there is theoretically still $5 million the mayor could use to get his Tingley project off the ground when he reviews the Council’s budget measure. That way everyone looks good to his or her constituents.

Good on the Council for keeping funding in tact for the first phase of basic renovations for Warehouse 508, the city’s long-planned multipurpose Downtown teen center. And come October, city voters should like these plans and approve bonds that will sprout all those parks to give us somewhere to play.