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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Another BernCo Tax Hike? County Officials Face Tough Questions As They Come Back To The Trough, Plus: Back On The ABQ Crime Beat; Former Mayor With His Latest Take, And: Those Substation Blues; Councilor Defends Money For Building While APD Still In Staffing Crisis 

Suddenly Bernalillo County again wants to raise the dreaded gross receipts tax (GRT) to plug its budget. That sprouted up as fast as garden weeds after a spring rain. Where has the discussion (and action) been on downsizing BernCo for the new reality of a stagnant population and tax base? Republican County Commissioner and soon-to-be mayoral wannabee Wayne Johnson points out that the county just approved a GRT increase in '15 and is already back at the trough.

Approval of the hike would take the GRT up to the doorstep of 8 percent. The GRT is derided by both the affluent and poor. Businesses point out its puts them at competitive disadvantage and the lower income citizens point out that the GRT takes more of their income than the well-off.

Unlike the state budget, which really needs increased revenue to fund the very basic services of running the public schools and which has already taken hundreds of millions in cuts, BernCo wants the tax revenue for "general operations." But it's becoming clear that many of those operations are a relic of the past based on a future of robust growth and an expanding tax base.

Bernalillo County’s spending on basic government climbed 22 percent over the four-year period that ended in June 2014. Those days are over and done and there needs to be a roll back. So where is the county manager on this? Her website says:

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca is committed to providing excellent public services and the most efficient use of tax dollars for the people of Bernalillo County.  "I will continue to strengthen the county’s financial position by streamlining our operating costs throughout county government."

So where is the $30 million in "streamlining" in the $257 million annual budget that would nix the need for this tax? Clearly, the time for consolidation of services between the city and county is here. But government leaders here continue to think the public, like them, want to cling to budgeting and allocation of resources that is from a different era. The county commission should kill this tax like those weeds in the garden.

NOT THE SAME

Opposing the county's tax hike does not conflict with support for raising revenue to keep the state government going, particularly the public schools. As we pointed out Tuesday, the proposed state general fund budget of $6.1 billion is at the same level as ten years ago. The corrections department is understaffed and the public schools have been threatened with a shortening of the school year. That's a real threat to vital public services. Can BernCo argue it faces the same urgency? No.

THE CRIME BEAT

Chavez
Here's a nonpartisan statement: Crime is out of control in ABQ.  We asked former three term Democratic Mayor Martin Chavez for his latest take as the city continues to be besieged by auto thefts, murders and assorted mayhem:

Crime in Albuquerque is virtually out of control and while socio-economic factors are important (education, poverty, etc.), the actual lack of cops is scandalous and is at the root of the problem. For example, the police generally know who is stealing automobiles, where they are being taken and how to go after them. But they lack the resources from City Hall to actually get their jobs done. Who could have imagined that our police department would have shrunk over the past 8 years? The use of special teams (burglary, auto theft, etc.) always fluctuates between forming and growing them and a natural need to simply have more cops on the streets with eyes, ears and the ability to apprehend bad guys. We now lack the beefed up specialized units to actually focus on specific crimes and the full complement of officers on the street to protect Albuquerqueans. Civilian investigators are not a bad idea but ultimately simply mask the problem that we lack sworn police officers.

And before the Chavez bashers start yelling, yes, we know Chavez faced a very high crime rate during some of his years as mayor as well as an APD officer shortage. The difference? Unlike today, neither event went on for years and years and with the city leadership deflecting all responsibility.

MORE CRIME BEAT

Davis
And then there's the debate over the new SE Heights APD substation set to go up in the crime infested area. We wondered if if wouldn't  be a "ghost station" given the extreme shortage of officers APD is suffering. City Councilor Pat Davis, who paved the way for the substation which will replace an older one, comes with a defense:

We are planning for the future. We've already funded all 980 officers APD needs to fully implement community policing. This fast-tracks the building of a community -focused Area Command for our busiest area of the city. APD was planning on it in 2019 in the long-term capital budget. It's a win: revitalization of a huge rundown lot, and acres of new public space to support parks, workforce housing and other community needs as a catalyst for neighborhood development. Instead of giving our public dollars to another private developer, we're kickstarting redevelopment with public investment to address neighborhood concerns and doing it in a way that makes community policing successful. 

Former Mayor Chavez sees it differently:

It would be better to use the capital portions of the allocation to upgrade the existing station (technology, etc) and direct the operational monies associated with the new substation toward police pay raises and more police officers. 

The city paid $1.5 million for the land the new substation will be built on.

Former APD officer Mark Bralley weighs in with this:

This substation is a waste of taxpayer's money. Under true community policing--whether recognized or not--every officer's vehicle is a mobile substation where at least 90% of policing is fulfilled.

Councilor Davis is correct that the city has funded 980 positions but there are still less than 825 officers because the city has not filled the positions.

Folks, we're going to say it one more time. Before this era in city and state history is over you're going to continue to see things that were previously unimaginable. Like this:

An APD that has been extremely understaffed for five years and which the political leadership of this city has failed to address to the everlasting detriment of the crime victims claimed by that failure.

ALL THOSE ADS

The blog has been flooded this week with ads for HB 440. The bill is scheduled to be heard Thursday before the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Details on the bill are easily found by clicking on the ads sponsored by the The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) which says it is "a coalition of working people, business owners, environmentalists, and trade organizations who are fighting for fair, responsible energy policies." Meanwhile, here's a news release from a group supporting the bill:

Family Businesses for Affordable Energy (FBAE) called for the extension of the New Mexico Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (REPTC), an extension that will lead to more new jobs and investments, while helping to lower the cost of energy for families and businesses. With this simple incentive, New Mexico already created thousands of jobs with billions in new investments. According to a recent study commissioned by the NM Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department, the tax credit created over 9,000 jobs, $430 million of labor income, and reductions in electricity costs—numbers that significantly exceed the fiscal cost of the tax credit. Conservative estimates are that there is $1.5-$2 billion worth of investments on the current solar waiting list alone. This could translate into 7,000-9,000 new jobs for New Mexico just waiting for the tax credit extension.

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