When Mayor Javier Gonzales delivered his State of the City address in February, he heralded a plan to give 5 percent raises for city workers, touting their hard work to rein in spending during a string of lean budget years.
Next year may feel like another one of those years.
In its first look at the proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the City Council learned Tuesday that the administration's vision for Santa Fe in the mayor's last full year in office is one that generally looks to fund a more efficient government rather than boost the bottom line for existing workers. It includes adding more than a dozen jobs at the Parks Department to take care of not just parks, but a flotilla of overgrown medians on roads around town. There are modest increases to tourism-related efforts, too. But a hefty citywide salary hike isn't in the administration's plan.
"We'll have to look at it in the budget, but 5 percent I think would be a stretch," Councilor Signe Lindell tells SFR during a lunch break during Tuesday's first budget briefing.
Fellow District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal overhears. "Ya think?" she offers with a chuckle.
All told, the proposed budget includes a spending increase over the current fiscal year of $3.8 million in new jobs, programs or program enhancements. Some of the money would go toward automating records at the police department with the goal of letting cops spend more time analyzing crime data and less time gathering it. The administration also wants to reopen the visitors center on La Bajada south of town and spend more money attracting and marketing flights into Santa Fe's airport.
At first blush, there's no clear path to a raise for the city's roughly 1,500 employees. And the Finance Committee doesn't seem to be interested in being handed a map by the mayor and city staff that shows only starting and ending points.
"We've turned that back to them and asked, as we go through the process, for them to provide us with a few scenarios," says Committee Chair Carmichael Dominguez.
One such option is to fund raises by paying off a bond issue early, saving more than $3 million on interest payments. Because of those savings, the city is likely to retire the bonds regardless of the final destination for the cash.
Councilor Lindell says it's hard to come to grips with the city's system of walling off funding sources, and that the raw numbers don't give a good picture. Overall, the administration claims a $15.5 million surplus for the coming year, though just $1.1 million of it is in the general fund.
"It's always a tough process knowing different pots of money are earmarked for different places. We can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a needed valve repair, but we don't have any funds to meet the needs of the interfaith shelter. Those are very hard things for me," says Lindell.
Councilor Dominguez, who by midday is wearing the look of someone who knows just how much work goes into the budget process, says the city's efforts to get itself on firm financial footing are on display in the fact that, this year, the council isn't having to decide what to cut:
"I think it reflects the hard work of this committee and staff from top to bottom."