Mayor Keller reveals options to reduce budget deficit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - Albuquerque taxpayers can expect to either pay more or lose some major city services soon under a new set of proposals aimed at fixing the city's multi-million dollar budget shortfall.

Cutting Animal Welfare's budget, eliminating the 311 Call Center, cutting city workers pay and increasing bus fares, senior center and permits fees are just a few of the ideas Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller unleashed Friday in a long promised "Budget Deficit Initiative Report."

Read Full Report Here »

By summer, Mayor Keller says the city will need to fill a $40 million budget deficit that's projected for the coming 2019 fiscal year.

The suggestions unveiled Friday are part of the first report produced by a group employees from the city's Department of Financial and Administrative Services and members of Keller's administration. The group came up with more than 30 ideas to include raising fees, raising taxes and making significant cuts to city services.

"It's extremely hard, it is more than what I thought," Albuquerque's Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said Friday in an interview with KRQE News 13.

Keller's Administration says the report does not represent a complete list of cuts or "revenue enhancements," but rather the major ideas that the mayor says are "on the table."

"We have put together, for the lawmakers, what are the ideas, what are the options on the table as far as a tax increase, fee increase, cutting expenses and you know increasing revenues," said Bhakta

Some of Mayor Keller's suggested cuts are wide ranging and potentially sweeping. Some proposed cuts could affect employees, including cutting 200 unfilled city positions to save $13.3 million; imposing 12 furlough days for all city employees to save $15 million and a citywide 2.5% pay cut to save $7.8 million.

Other ideas could impact city departments, including a 25% cut to Animal Welfare's budget to save $2.75 million, which the mayor believes would result in euthanizing more animals. 

A complete elimination of the 311 Call Center has even been proposed. The city says that would save $3.6 million.

Also on the table is the closure of at least one city golf course, cutting community events like "Summerfest" and events at the Kimo Theatre, even reducing bus transit services by 10 percent.

Beyond cuts, money making ideas are also being proposed by Mayor Keller's administration, to include fee hikes and potential tax increases.

Some of the fee hikes could raise the price of planning permits, bus fares, home security alarm permits, aquatics fees, community center adult fees and golf fees.

As for taxes, Keller's administration has proposed a 2-cent gas tax that would be required to go to voters.

But the administration has also clearly outlined the idea of a potential sales tax increase that wouldn't go to the voters.

As a mayoral candidate, Keller said during a debate hosted by KRQE News 13 that he believes any tax increases should go to the voters.

"I don't believe we should raise taxes at all unless we go to the voters," said Keller during the debate.

But according to Keller's budget ideas, a 3/8th of one-cent GRT increase would only take "a simple majority vote of Council" to enact. The tax would close the entire budget hole by raising roughly $43.7 in 2018, and $52 million by 2019.

Keller's team told KRQE News 13 on Friday that it did not have a preference on what it would like to see.

"I'm not leaning towards anything, the options are there for the lawmakers to consider," said Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta.

"This report is for the lawmakers to consider and weigh all the options and decide, because these are real needs of the city, the deficit is real and the lawmakers will have to figure out how to fill that gap," said Bhakta.

Meanwhile, Albuquerque City Councilors are already planning to talk about and potentially vote on a 3/8th of a cent GRT increase. The measure will be considered for "final action" on city council's Monday agenda meaning council could vote to enact it.

The tax has previously been pitched as a "public safety tax" to recruit and retain officers for the Albuquerque Police Department. However, if it passed, it's unlikely that all of the funding generated by the tax would go to APD. Money generated would go into the general fund, which could be used for virtually any city expense.

When asked about the Mayor's report Friday, Albuquerque City Council President Ken Sanchez indicated to KRQE News 13 that the city has cut into services for too long.

"How far do we want to go?" asked Sanchez. "Because if we basically give furlough days off to our employees, that's only going to be one time."

"We continue to cut and to cut basically to meet our budget, because we as a city cannot operate in a deficit," said Sanchez.

Sanchez co-sponsored the introduction of the proposed public safety sales tax increase.

"The solution would basically be to implement the increase as quickly as possible so we can assure that the citizens of our city are safe," said Sanchez.


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