By definition, something is better than nothing. But city of Santa Fe employees who just two months ago heard Mayor Javier Gonzales propose a 5 percent raise tonight learned they’d have to settle for 2 percent.
“It’s too little and it’s been too long,” said Miles Conway, communications director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest city employees’ union. “We came to the table last year and asked how AFSCME can help. We gave up positions to help the city.”
Amid continuing debate over which city employees should get raises and how much they should be, the Santa Fe City Council passed a $327.5 million budget for the fiscal year that beings July 1 that anticipates cost-of-living raises of 2 percent for city employees. It also sets aside $409,000 for a what amounts to a pilot program for a merit pay system.
Union members balked at the merit pay suggestion.
Tony Ortiz, a 20-year veteran of the city's Transit Division, called the merit pay "kiss-up money."
"If you come in early and bring your boss a burrito and talk with him, that's how you get merit pay," Ortiz scoffed outside council chambers.
The raises, meager though they may feel to some, come with the promise that the city will revisit further pay raises once it better understands the future of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
The university, which rents its St. Michael’s Drive campus from the city, recently announced its plans to close its doors in May 2018. The school’s lease payments covered the city’s mortgage for the property.
After dealing with a $15 million shortfall last year, the council had a general fund surplus of $1.2 million. But the budget approved Wednesday set that money aside in case the city has to start paying the $2.23 million annual lease.
“It’s disappointing,” said Gonzales. “But given the situation with the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and the uncertainty there, I think this is a responsible budget that gives us the flexibility to come back to the issue of pay raises. We want to keep the employees we have and make sure they don’t go looking for other jobs.”
While the City Council approved the budget unanimously, some councilors voiced concern about moving too hastily to repair some of the damage done by budget cuts in recent years.
“I feel like the minute we’re realizing any kind of a surplus, we’re obligating it right away,” said Councilor Joseph Maestas. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Maestas worried about the possibility of state government accelerating the phase out of so-called “hold harmless” payments to cities as part of the elimination of the gross receipts tax on food, though the mayor said legislators did not expect the state to make such a move as it, too, looks to finalize spending for next year.
Councilor Peter Ives made a brief attempt at a handful of changes to the budget. Most of Ives’ moves were unsuccessful, including an attempt to create a Historic Preservation Division director position, which city payroll shows often carries a $50-per-hour salary. Ives argued the position would benefit the city’s image and tourism industry.
Finance Committee Chair Carmichael Dominguez balked at the last-ditch attempt to add positions to the budget. “We need lifeguards, we need more police. … I don’t believe this is necessarily the place to do that,” Dominguez said.
The mayor voiced support for the position.
“It goes to the heart and soul of our community whether we’re talking about our places or our people,” said Gonzales. “Seventy percent of our budget is driven by gross receipts taxes. And a large part of that is tourism. And a large part of that is our historic preservation.”
Ultimately, Ives withdrew his proposed amendment, with the only change being a plan to reinstate a day of leave that had been taken from non-union career managers at the city.