A rise in retail taxes, the hint of cannabis and condemning coyote hunts lured a flock of citizens to the March 5 Albuquerque City Council meeting to participate in the democratic process.
The new tax measure we wrote about on the next page passed on an 8 to 1 vote, with Councilor Brad Winter casting the lone dissenting vote. The city’s gross receipts tax will increase by 3/8 of a cent (.375%) per dollar and is expected to rake in as much as $55 million a year. The money will go toward the goal of fully staffing the city’s public safety programs. The current tax rate is 7.5 percent. The new rate will start with the next fiscal year, July 1, 2018.
Supporters say the bucks will help offset a growing deficit that’s caused by the phase-out of the state’s “hold harmless” subsidies given out to municipalities for not collecting gross receipts tax on food. The hold harmless payments to the city will end in a couple years taking about $40 million in annual tax money with them.
Public comment oscillated from support from residents, police officers and fire fighters who want funding to break free from the high crime rate, to those who are skeptical that the city will waste and piddle away the dollars on things like the former administration’s failed Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.
In casting his dissenting vote, Winter claimed this tax increase is not going to help with police officer recruiting and retention because, according to him, one of the biggest problems with staffing the police department is the US Department of Justice agreement to oversee the department for another handful of years.
The city’s public safety unions got a commitment to earmark no less than 60 percent of the new tax revenue for public safety, which includes police, animal welfare, transit officers, emergency medical services and the fire department.
Mayor Tim Keller who campaigned on tax increases as a last recourse in grim circumstances—and only with voter approval—said the City Council has no choice but to own up to the financial problems carried over from the last administration. The City Council pretty much rubber stamped the former administration’s myopic intent with the ART project, which by most accounts has so far pretty much destroyed the prior vibrancy of the Central Avenue corridor.
A measure to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was introduced but not debated; that will come at a future meeting. The proposed legislation would put Burque on the same page as a growing list of municipalities such as Santa Fe, Berkeley, Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit to name but a few, that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot. The new measure says possession of under an ounce without a medical permit can be ignored, or a $25 ticket could be issued.
Currently, cops can give a $50 ticket or up to 15 days in jail for first time, small amount pot possessors. But being arrested for possession can interfere with loans, jobs, housing and adoption, among other things. Councilor Pat Davis said there were about 200 small amount marijuana arrests last year, taking time away from real police problems. The local police union is in favor of the measure. Folks from the Drug Policy Alliance said this was a good move but the state is still behind the curve when it comes to cannabis reform. Nine states and the nation’s capital city are reaping many benefits of a growing, legalized adult recreational marijuana industry, while learning what regulatory countermeasures might be needed. Stay tuned to see if Albuquerque joins this progressive movement, takes advantage of the wider experience gained elsewhere, and generates much needed revenue.
Don’t bring your coyote hunting and death games to Albuquerque! Councilors unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting coyote killing contests from being organized, arranged or sponsored, for prizes or entertainment. One gentleman wearing a Vietnam Vet hat said it true: “This is not an activity that a civilized society engages in.”
Another batch of civic-minded residents were appointed to various boards and commissions: Loretta Naranjo-Lopez was assigned to the Zoning Board of Appeals; Sandra A. Buffett went to the Joint Air Quality Board; Dr. Preston Fedor will serve on the EMS Medical Control Board; William Ferguson, William S. Carreathers and Jim Maddox are now members the Airport Advisory Board; Mark J. Gilboard and Jessie L. Hunt will serve on the Indicators of Progress Commission; Tony R. Johnson is now a member to the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; Van Overton and Taura Livingston will serve on the ABQ Volunteers Advisory Board; Amy M. Miller was admitted to the Albuquerque Energy Council; Leigh E. Brunner will work with the Biological Park Board; Gabrielle M. Uballez is now a member of the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund and Sean Jariwala has taken a position with the Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board.
• Councilors gave the Rail Runner ‘thumbs up’ in support to help the state acquire $55 million in funding to comply with federal mandates to install Positive Train Control, which is an automatic braking system.
• Councilors approved the sale of about $91 million in general obligation bonds to finance projects ranging from public safety, citizens’ centers, parks and recreation, facilities and equipment, library, public transportation and various other projects approved at prior Council meetings.
• Councilors denied an appeal of a permit for a storage facility located directly on Central Avenue in Nob Hill. The Nob Hill Neighborhood Association filed the appeal late, after it found out that the facility was improperly given a permissive use permit instead of a conditional use. Some Councilors noted this is a prickly situation because the mistake was not caught until after construction was well under way. It appears commuters, Nob Hill residents and all cruisers along Central Ave will just have to look the other way when passing by what some call an unattractive box building.