Calling for Backup

As the FY25 budget development begins, city officials consider job vacancies and new positions to support councilors

The City of Santa Fe will soon begin crafting its budget for the next fiscal year, and officials are looking at ways to respond to increased workloads for city workers in the face of hundreds of vacant jobs.

A classification and compensation study from Evergreen Solutions late last year cited a need for higher wages for city employees. Today, more than one-fifth of the city’s authorized positions don’t have workers. Human Resources Director Bernadette Salazar tells SFR the latest headcount of city employees, both union and non-union, shows 1,290 filled positions and 373 vacancies—a vacancy rate of 22%.

The Transit Division tops the list of the most in need, accounting for about 50 vacancies. The city’s most recent audit report, which covered Fiscal Year 2022, noted staff shortages were the among the reasons for failure to comply with financial controls, grant requirements and other functions.

City Manager John Blair tells SFR Mayor Alan Webber is “in the early stages” of drafting his FY 2025 budget proposal and does not have solid plans to create new positions. Webber will evaluate positions that have been vacant for long periods of time to determine if they should be kept open. One option, Blair says, would be to repurpose positions to be more “customer service facing” in order to do “a better job of responding to resident needs as quickly as possible.”

“It’s about making government work for the residents who are here now, not holding positions in place for potential future administration down the road that may or may not want this position,” Blair says.

But with proposals due in the coming months and hearings before the Finance Committee for the next budget set to begin this spring, some city councilors are pushing for certain new positions.

District 2 Councilor and Finance Committee Chair Carol Romero Wirth says it’s time to create support positions specifically to help elected officials respond to city residents. She tells SFR her workload as a councilor continues to increase and she’s been looking at the cost of adding several of those jobs to the city roster.

“We’re technically part time, but it’s anything but a part-time job. Many of us have other full-time jobs, so I really see this as building the capacity of the council is one thing we can do,” Romero Wirth says. “It would be helpful to have somebody who could help me gather the necessary information to provide a thoughtful and detailed response to people’s concerns.”

In 2023, the council passed an ordinance allowing the city to hire staff to support councilors when funds are available, which Romero Wirth says means “it really is now a budget question.”

“I think it would be a tall order to have one person serve eight councilors. Exactly what we can afford and what this will look like, I think that’s part of the ongoing conversation,” Romero Wirth says.

District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia, on the other hand, tells SFR he agrees more positions are needed, but the council needs to consider how positions might work together.

“I think it ultimately comes down to what is the job description going to be,” Garcia says.

In the Constituent Services Office, for example, he says the city needs to “increase capacity directly…We’re now seeing with an increase in population and the aging infrastructure, that these repeat, increasing requests are going to become much, much more common.”

That office has three full-time staff members and two vacant full-time jobs. The volume of requests it receives demonstrates the need for the department to staff up, Constituent Services Manager Isabella Sharpe told councilors at a Jan. 3 study session.

The city added new positions including two public records specialists and eight new jobs in the Community Health and Safety Department in December 2023 after finance officials reported collecting more gross receipts tax revenue than it anticipated.

Garcia and Romero Wirth both said the city should consider using that revenue source to create new positions, but Blair tells SFR it’s not a simple prospect.

“What happens if fewer people come to Santa Fe next year, and we’re looking at less revenue in which to spend on employees and staff and resources?” Blair says. “That will be a thing that the governing body I suspect will take seriously, ensuring that there are enough recurring dollars every year to fund the positions that they want.”

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