Money Matters

Santa Fe city officials approve FY23 budget despite rebuke from state auditor

The City of Santa Fe’s governing body on Wednesday night adopted a new operating budget—a $382.8 million spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Over the last two weeks, the city’s Finance Committee has been hashing out the details of the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, the Finance Committee’s chair, said the budget hearings resulted in a document that makes significant investments in affordable housing, economic recovery, meeting sustainability goals and more.

Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the FY23 expenses mark a 7.1% increase from FY19. But the new plan represents a 0.9% decrease from FY22′s budget.

Wednesday’s late-night vote came a day after State Auditor Brian Colón once again lambasted the city’s “worsening fiscal mismanagement.”

Colón, a Democrat who is running for state attorney general, pointed to accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen’s termination of its work for the city as evidence. He also cited $4 million to $5 million in 2021′s budget that remains un-reconcilable.

Like the previous three audits, Santa Fe’s  2021 audit didn’t come in on time, and financial management shortcomings have continued to haunt the city’s Finance Department. Colón announced his office would intervene in the city’s finances to “prevent further financial crisis for the City.”

During Wednesday night’s meeting, City Manager John Blair provided details about the accounting firm’s exit.

After receiving an email from CliftonLarsonAllen on Monday afternoon announcing its departure, Blair and Mayor Alan Webber met with the firm’s leadership to “begin to understand causes that led them to want to withdraw from the audit [and] recommendation they have about how we can be doing better.”

“We are taking it with all the seriousness it deserves,” Blair said.

Following an email from Colón’s office directing the city to find a new auditor, Blair said the city put out a request for proposals that will be released on Monday. Applicants will have 20 day to submit proposals.

Despite the issues with the audit, Blair emphasized the need to continue moving forward to approve the budget.

The city’s audit issues didn’t preoccupy councilors’ thinking ahead of the budget vote.

Debate came after Councilor Lee Garcia offered an amendment that would have expanded eligibility for the First Responder Down Payment Assistance Program to all city employees.

The Human Resources Department requested $750,000 to fund the home-buying assistance program for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Romero-Wirth noted that Wednesday’s budget vote set aside funds for the department, but the specifics of programs were best left for a later debate.

“What’s in front of us tonight is a resolution and a bunch of numbers,” Romero-Wirth said in response to the amendment, “not the details of a particular program.”

Councilor Michael Garcia hoped to change the language in the budget book that outlined the budget’s program goals. Councilors advocated funding the program further and expanding its eligibility to encourage more city employees to live in the city.

In the end, Webber deemed the amendment not germane, meaning the governing body will have to work through the program’s details down the line.

“It doesn’t diminish the significance of any of our other employees, it simply says, as a pilot project, how can we get more of those first responders living here,” Webber said.

Michael Garcia, who seconded the amendment, said: “A crystal-ball warning here, there will be a resolution coming forward to allow this…opportunity to be extended to all city employees. So whether we talk about and agree on it or not agree on it tonight, it will be in our future, this is an opportunity we need to extend to everybody.”

Among the budgetary changes, some of the most significant increases went to the police, finance and public utilities departments.

The funding for the Police Department increased by 13.6% over last year to $33.4 million. It includes $2.3 million to provide a 16% wage increase to union employees in the department and an additional $2 million for wages, salaries and benefits compared to the FY22 budget that will contribute to an 8% salary increase to non-union employees.

The 8% raise is across the board for city workers, including those in the Finance Department, which also requested $1.2 million to upgrade Munis Financial and Payroll modules and update departmental policies and procedures.

The Public Utilities Department’s 10.8% budget increase is primarily driven by funds allocated to the Environmental Services Division. Those include increased tipping and recycling fees by the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency, the purchase of new collection vehicles and repayment of the lease for the compressed natural gas station.

The city’s budget will be sent to the New Mexico Department of Finance for approval.

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