A nearly full house greeted Albuquerque City Councilors at their Monday, May 21 meeting. The top topics included approval of a new $577 million fiscal year general fund budget, shout-outs to local teachers, active and retired firefighters and a long-awaited recognition to the local Islamic community in honor of Ramadan. Councilor Isaac Benton attended the meeting via telephone as per Council rules.
Councilors read a proclamation honoring the dedication of our area teachers and educators. A handful of educators were on hand to accept the thank you.
Firefighters, active and retired, were honored for their dedication and how they risk their lives responding to emergencies. Coincidentally, in the few hours just prior to the Council meeting, during heavy rainfall and a rolling roiling thunder storm, area emergency fire and rescue squads dealt with lightning strikes that caused four structure fires; six people being swept away in arroyos. One woman drowned despite the best efforts of first responders
For the first time in more than 40 years, the City Council gave recognition to the city’s Islamic community and its observance of Ramadan. Councilor Pat Davis read the proclamation honoring the many contributions of our Islamic community and the peace and charity they contribute to our community. Ramadan is observed this year from May 16 through June 14. During this time, over a 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide focus their minds on prayer, peace, spirituality and charity while fasting during daylight hours.
Harris Zeyaee, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico said, “We are truly honored to have you present this information to the community. This is the first time in 40 years that there has been some recognition. We love our city and we love our state.” Zeyaee noted that Ramadan is more than fasting and prayer. “It is a pillar of Islam; it is about service; it is about giving back and appreciating what we have and what we don’t have,” Zeyaee said.
Councilors approved a general fund budget of about $577 million. The total city budget which includes enterprise funds is close to $1 billion for fiscal year 2018 to 2019.
Councilor Trudy Jones took exception to public comments that proclaimed that the Council does not care about the city’s kids. In a fiery presentation, Jones said if the public thinks the Council does not care about our youth they are wrong. She then rattled off a list that added up to millions spent in youth programs. Councilors debated various amendments then added another million to youth program coffers within a budget that includes the funds needed to keep the lights on and the city running.
Crime and public safety are a top priority for Mayor Tim Keller and the Council, and this budget is heavy on funding public safety initiatives. Some of the public safety budget highlights include: $1.9 million for lab work to address a backlog of more than 4,000 untested rape kits going back years; $2.3 million for the compliance with the Department of Justice settlement agreement over the police department’s use of force; $2 million to recruit more police officers; $15 million in affordable housing contracts; $8.2 million in homeless services; $5.7 million for substance abuse and mental health contracts; $18.2 million for homeless and behavioral health programs and $1.8 million to reduce property crimes.
On a 4 to 3 vote, a memorial introduced by Councilor Pat Davis squeaked by. The memorial opposes radioactive waste traveling through Albuquerque by rail on its way to a proposed temporary nuclear waste dump location in southern New Mexico.
A company named Holtec Inc. is asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to move up to 10,000 loads of nuclear waste through New Mexico, possibly through the middle of Albuquerque, on its way to be temporarily stored in-ground in Lea County. The word “temporary” means the spent nuclear fuel rods eventually must be moved a second time, possibly making two trips through our state.
Sam Pruitt, a fifth grader at Monte Vista Elementary school said, “The plan to ship nuclear waste to southern New Mexico is a very bad idea and will be dangerous to every community it travels through. It is up to the City Council to do what they can to protect their growing children.”
The memorial, which bears no legal power or efficacy, says the spent nuclear waste should remain secured at the sites, or near the sites, of generation and be transported only once, when a scientifically viable permanent disposal site becomes available.
Councilors Diane Gibson, Trudy Jones and Don Harris voted against the memorial. “I don’t believe the city has the right to tell the railroad what it can transport on its tracks,” Jones said. She said she does not think this memorial represents the view of most people in Albuquerque.
Sixteen civic minded folks stepped up to serve or remain on some of the city’s many boards and commissions, including Ms. Mary Rios to the Arts Board; the reappointment of Mr. Lee Truitt to the Airport Advisory Board; Mr. John A. Carey to the Accountability in Government Oversight Committee; Reappointment of Mr. Peter L. Ambs to the Information Services Committee; Mr. B. Jesse Muniz to the Information Services Committee; Ms. Donna J. Griffin and Ms. Giovanna Rossi to the Indicators Progress Commission and the Reappointment of Mr. Dathan L. Weems to the ABQ Volunteers Advisory Board.
Meanwhile, Ms. Pamela Hurd-Knief and Ms. Traci M. Pepper were assigned to the ABQ Volunteers Advisory Board; Ms. Leanne S. Yanabu will work with Library Advisory Board; Mr. Richard Meadows was appointed to the Greater Albuquerque Bicycling Advisory Committee; Mr. Arturo Sandoval went to the Joint Air Quality Board; Ms. Denise M. Foor joined the Municipal Golf Advisory Board; Ms. Kristelle C. Siarza and Ms. Myra Ghattas will serve on the Small Business Regulatory Advisory Committee; Ms. Maria Lisa Gonzales is now a member of the Para Transit Advisory Board and Ms. Loretta Naranjo has been assigned to the Zoning Board of Appeals.