It’s a different world from whence we last touched base. Our local government bodies have had to quickly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with budget adjustments, small business help and police reform.
Covid Blue, Green
Local government leaders jumped into action to try to find ways to alleviate the economic, social and cultural impacts of the several-weeks-long pandemic lockdown by putting up several million in economic aid to small businesses.
Back in April Burque leaders tossed out $5,000 in 15 micro loans to businesses with five or fewer employees. Another cool Burque $1 million is going out to help area nonprofits and businesses who service at-risk populations to go toward food, housing and other basic needs. The city also gave out a little more than $310,000 to help 66 local arts and cultural organizations weather the pandemic.
There are some interesting items on the Council table when they gather for a special meeting June 29 to tackle adjusting the budget to deal with the pandemic damage and the damage done June 1 during the police reform riots. The sexy items Councilors plan on tackling are a trio of proposed ordinances introduced by Councilors Lan Sena and Isaac Benton. One would require employers such as grocery stores, hospitals and restaurants with 50 or fewer worker bees give them between $30 and $75 a week in hazard pay for essential folks who have to deal with the public. Another ordinance says such employers must provide up to 80 hours of sick leave for COVID-19 and other illnesses. The third ordinance is not so controversial and requires employers to provide personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.
The pay bump and sick pay are not popular topics for some, as Councilors Don Harris and Brook Bassan want to see an economic study on how this will impact businesses that are already struggling to keep up. Business leaders have said these bills lack transparency and lack respect for city businesses and could cause even more to close. Proponents of the bills say these support the vulnerable workers, who have and will continue to show up.
Councilors passed a price-gouging bill that makes it a crime to raise the cost of services and essential items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and other essential stuff by more than 20 percent during an official declared emergency. One important exception is when the wholesale costs have spiked due to market fluctuations. It gives the city the authority to check out purchase documents. Price gouging became a problem over the last few months, and according to the state’s Attorney General’s Office there have been hundreds of complaints filed.
In one more little bump for businesses, more room for restaurants and retail shops to operate came in the form of a measure allowing establishments to expand into their outdoor space, like parking lots, for customers. This will help many mom-and-pop businesses have a better chance of getting back on their feet.
At a June 16 special meeting, the Bernalillo County Commission approved $5 million in small-business grants. The bucks are funded through the county’s federal CARES Act coronavirus relief money. The money should help about 500 businesses up to the tune of $10,000 each. The county is giving priority to businesses who did not qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program. The county received a total of $32 million from the feds in CARES Act funding.
Bernalillo County also received good news from the Environmental Protection Agency in the form of a $600,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant to start the process of cleaning up contaminated property in the South Valley. Once the clean-up assessment is completed, then the County can apply for a larger grant to execute the actual clean up. This part of the Rio Grande Valley was once primarily an agricultural community that experienced rapid development with little planning and zoning regulations. The Broadway and Second Street corridor has evolved into a checkerboard of small farms, varied housing, heavy industrial, open spaces and other commercial ventures. Air, ground and water pollution has plagued these South Valley residents since the 1950s, causing a square mile to be declared a Superfund site requiring federal monitoring. Part of this square-mile site has been cleaned up with prior funding and was removed from the national priority list. According to the EPA, Brownfields programs started in 1995 and give communities with contaminated properties a chance to transform them into attractive, healthy, vibrant communities.
Bernco commissioners passed a $341 million dollar biennial budget. The two-year budget was adjusted by delay or removing a number initiatives due to the unexpected pandemic that caused a decrease in tax revenue. But with restaurants and breweries now reopening, the County has implemented its Take A Ride With Us promotion that gives Uber users up to $10 through June 30. Just use the code SUMMER2020. First come, first served for up to 3,000 riders. This is a public/private hook-up that has provided more than 25,000 rides since 2017.
We Can’t Breathe
The fast changing police environment has brought local governments face to face with police training, funding, recruiting and attitudes. Councilor Pat Davis has introduced a bill that would overhaul the city’s police department. Mayor Tim Keller has announced his own reform plan, which includes a whole new agency. Not a lot of response has been forthcoming from the Bernco Sheriff. A peek at the Sheriff’s Office webpage shows deputies are doing their jobs and are actively recruiting. The state lawmakers are taking a hard look, with some groundbreaking statewide legislation making its way through the Roundhouse. We at the Alibi will be keeping our eyes and ears on how this important issue shakes out.
As per tradition, City Councilors will take the month of July off unless a special meeting is called. They will return to their chamber on Aug. 3. Bernalillo County Commission is set for July virtual meetings. Check out all the local government happenings at www.cabq.gov and www.bernco.gov