The financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic become more evident by the day, but planned private developments in Santa Fe are still on track, including the city's first apartment complex to include 15% affordable housing on site. There's even the possibility that a multi-million dollar television production could take up residence at the Midtown Campus for anywhere between one to seven years to come. But with a looming budget deficit of $100 million dollars expected for the next fiscal year, the city can no longer ignore problems with a pricey health insurance plan that offers city employees envy-worthy benefits such as massage therapy.
These issues and more were on the table at Wednesday night's City Council meeting, where officials voted to extend an emergency proclamation from Mayor Alan Webber on Monday that, for the first time since the pandemic hit, declares a fiscal emergency along with a health one.
Tacking a "financial emergency" onto the emergency proclamation expands the powers of city's elected officials under the City's Emergency Proclamation Ordinance to include orders that specifically address the financial consequences of the crisis in addition to addressing public health. It's the third time the mayor has issued a COVID-19-related emergency order and it remains in effect for the next 60 days.
The order continues to limit groups of five or less until the restriction changes at the state level. It extends the prohibition on residential evictions until the state Supreme Court lifts its injunction on evictions and stops landlords from evicting commercial tenants who can't pay rent because they have been prohibited from opening to the public. As before, people will still be held accountable for the rent they owe as soon as the order is lifted.
The city still won't shut off water for people who can't pay their bills, but plans to begin collecting on-street parking fees again on May 31. Other changes to the previous emergency orders include the mandate that everybody wear masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces, and a requirement for businesses to comply with industry specific COVID-19 regulations issued by the state.
Finally, with the addition of the fiscal emergency, the proclamation instructs the city manager to identify cost savings across city departments and make recommendations to the governing body about where to cut costs or generate additional revenue. Those actions had already been contemplated as finance managers develop a plan to plug the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The mayor's updated emergency proclamation passed unanimously without discussion.
Councilors also approved development plans on Wednesday for several large projects including a four-story hotel proposed on the corner of West San Francisco Street downtown, a 26-unit housing development off Rufina Street, and a 233-unit apartment complex at the intersection of Airport Road and South Meadows Road that promises to be the first rental development in Santa Fe to include 15% affordable units onsite in accordance with the city's development rules, rather than simply paying a fee-in-lieu.
The governing body unanimously voted to amend a lease for the Garson Studios on the Midtown campus to accommodate a potential deal with "a nationally known cable TV production facility group that wants to start a series here and use the Midtown campus as a production headquarters," Economic Development Director Rich Brown told the council. Brown says the project, if it goes through, could have a $20-million economic impact on the city over the course of seven seasons of the new show. He also said that the studios would work with the Santa Fe Community College and UNM to start a career development program in film at the campus.
Most of Wednesday night's discussion, though, was spent on changes to the city health insurance plan. The option approved by councilors includes some increases to deductibles and copays, but it uses a reserve fund to offset employee and employer contributions so as not to increase premiums.
Just how the city might make up the forecast budget gap is unclear. An online survey asked for input for residents beginning May 18 but has now been closed. The Finance Committee is due to meet Monday.