During Richard Berry's campaign, he opposed then-Mayor Martin Chavez’ proposal for a streetcar system. After Berry became the city's boss, he also decided against sinking $350 million into a Downtown arena. Still, he says, all the while he was daydreaming about how Burque’s good public spaces could be great.
Rather than spending Chavez-style on one or two big-ticket items, why not spread that money into myriad projects that connect in an integrated way? That's the idea behind Berry's " ABQ the Plan.”
The Alibi attended a twn hall meeting at the KiMo, spoke with Berry afterward, then sat down with him a couple of days later to hear a little more about his long-term vision for the city. “If I never see a shovel hit the ground during my administration, these efforts are worth making and planning,” Berry says.
He's hosted close to 30 meetings and presentations to have what he calls a candid conversation about a future Albuquerque, one 25 years down the line. He says he wants the citizens to buy into the ideas and help carry them forward, past his and several administrations.
But not everyone loves the mayor's proposal. To make it work, Berry sought to move $3 million from the operational budget (day-to-day running of the city, including employee pay and raises) to the capital budget (brick-and-mortar projects).
The Council had to approve this move. Councilor Brad Winter—a couple of days before the final budget vote on Monday, May 16—introduced a floor substitute that would shift the $3 million. His Berry-friendly measure passed on a party-line vote, with the Council's five Republicans approving it [Council Watch, “Suddenly Partisan,” May 19 -25].
Councilor Debbie O’Malley walked out of the meeting several minutes before the vote, making the final tally 5 to 3. She points out that the city does not have enough money to maintain current projects and has had to cut department budgets “to the bone.” Democrat Councilor Isaac Benton writes in an email that he's in favor of some of the content in "ABQ the Plan" but didn't approve of the process. “I like several of the ideas that have been presented by the mayor,” Benton says. But “capital projects should be fully vetted with the public, debated by the Council and voted upon by the public.”
Council President Don Harris says it's important to invest in the future. Previous administrations took money from capital projects to fund basic operations, he says, and this just starts to put some of that money back where it should be. Councilor Dan Lewis agrees. “It is smart and very wise to put some of that money back,” he says.
But Berry says he's also concerned about erasing debt and preserving existing programs. The money will not come from cuts to services, he promises. Instead, the city would need to partner with the private sector to develop its public spaces. “It’s about the quality of life,” he says, “and it’s about community involvement to make it happen and pay for making it happen without raising taxes or taking away from the existing programs."
When the mayor looks at the Bosque, he says he imagines kayaks floating down the river while people stroll along a boardwalk that overlooks the Rio Grande. He envisions gatherings year-round at Expo New Mexico and Balloon Fiesta Park. He wonders, Why should all the sports tournament money go to Phoenix or Vegas? “Every weekend dozens and dozens of city residents get on planes and fly somewhere else to play or watch sports."
These ideas and more will go before the Council and then the voters in October. Once projects are chosen, the city could issue up to $50 million in bonds to get started. Berry says it’s kind of like making a $3 million payment on a $50 million house.