ALBUQUERQUE - Bernalillo County has to cash out more investments at a huge loss to in order to pay bills, and now real people are about to feel real pain because of the county treasurer's fiasco.
County department heads have been asked to cut millions as they realize just how deep a hole County Treasurer Manny Ortiz has dug.
"We're solvent," said County Manager Tom Zdunek. "I want the folks to know that we're still very solvent. That's not an issue."
But for Zdunek, that's where the good news ends.
The bad news has already started: $750,000 lost when the treasurer was forced into early sales of risky investments to pay the county's bills.
It continued Tuesday morning when Zdunek called in his top aides for the proverbial kitchen table discussion.
The Bernalillo County family has to cut $20-$25 million from its budget.
"After-school programs we have for adults as well as kids; we would consider shortening those, perhaps," Zdunek said.
Art classes and similar programs at community centers? The county could cut them or consolidate them.
Similar jobs in similar departments? Gone, Zdunek says, with one person doing the work once done by two.
The treasurer's investment policy has already ground one-time projects to a halt.
"Most folks should know, we've cut about $20 million out of what we were going to do this particular year," Zdunek continued.
That means a last-minute cancelation of an order for a new fire engine. It means a dozen or more sheriff's department cars won't be replaced. It means roads left rutted, parking lots left unpaved.
"As we like to refer to it, 'projects that make a difference in the community,'" Zdunek said. "We no longer can do that."
Treasurer Ortiz and his investment officer, former Treasurer Patrick Padilla, control the bank account used to pay most of the county's bills.
But almost everyone who isn't the treasurer says too much of that account is tied up in investments that take too long to pay off.
"We need to understand this is not something that will get better tomorrow," Zdunek said.
Cutting programs, cutting projects, Zdunek is doing everything he can to preserve what is, at the moment, an excellent credit rating for the county even if it means selling investments at a huge loss.
"So you're wondering, how much does that really mean?" he said. "$20-$30 million, maybe $40 million overnight, depending on what the market does."
Without a sterling credit rating or without cash, the only option seems to be more cuts.
At a county meeting Tuesday night Ortiz and his own advisors refused to admit they've made a mistake. But interestingly enough they did vote to stop making such long-range investments.
The investments are now capped at six months to avoid more losses and penalties for cashing out early and to make sure there's always a flow of cash to pay the county's bills.
None of this helps with the current crisis and the cuts the county has now put in motion.
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Sunday night in Albuquerque and around the world people gathered for candlelight vigils to remember the loss of their children.
Department of Agriculture officials are warning customers to not get burned when buying firewood.
Church groups, parents and teachers met Sunday at the 20th annual Albuquerque Interfaith Convention. State education reform was their central focus.
Police officers were called out to Lovelace Hospital on Saturday after a patient woke up to find his laptop missing.