Belen city employees to get pay hike

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Belen's fiscal budget for 2012-13 is looking up compared to two years ago when the city was in a $3.2 million deficit.

Belen's fiscal budget for 2012-13 is looking up compared to two years ago when the city was in a $3.2 million deficit.

The city's general budget of $4,830,300 provided some wiggle room for pay increases for city employees, the addition of two positions and matching funds for upcoming city projects.

Last year, administrators slimmed the $4,359,983 budget to bare bones. This year's budget rose due to an increase from the Small Cities Assistance Fund, which rose from $35,000 to $90,000, and the steadying of the gross receipts tax to $402,000, which is above the $375,000 minimum need, said Roseann Peralta, the city's finance clerk.

"It's an improvement from last year. At least we're not afraid," said Belen City Manager Mary Lucy Baca. "Last time, we were afraid for emergencies to occur, because we thought, 'Well, how are we going to pay for anything?' And now, we know that we're OK. We're not great, but we're OK."

Administrators received a letter approving the city's interim budget from New Mexico's Department of Finance and Administration on June 15. Final approval of the budget is dependent upon the city passing a resolution approving the fourth quarterly financial report for 2011-12, and a financial report reflecting the unaudited beginning cash balance of the 2012-13 year aligned with the year-end cash balance on the fourth quarterly financial report.

Beginning July 1, city employees, except for the mayor and councilors, will receive a cost of living increase of .75 cents, which was funded through the additional dollars coming into the city not from water, sewer or garbage rate increases applied in February, Peralta said.

One police officer position in the police department was eliminated to fund pay increases of .23 cents for the 21 officers on the force, which will be added on top of the cost of living increase.

Belen Police Chief Dan Robb said in a late May city council meeting the eliminated position was vacant for "a very long time."

The pay increase aims to deter the department from losing high quality officers, Robb said.

Two positions were added to the city's payroll, including one full-time recreational specialist in the Parks and Recreation Department and a part-time courts clerk for the Belen Municipal Court.

A $100,000 property abatement fund, which would fund the demolition of vacant and condemned buildings, and a $700,000 road infrastructure improvement fund, containing funding matches for upcoming projects, were also added to the budget.

About $610,000 of the road infrastructure improvement fund are committed toward projects, such as the Camino del Llano ponding, replacement of the eagle tank off Camino del Llano and Frontage Road, Old River Road improvements, completion of Becker Avenue renovations from First to Second streets and other road improvements.

"We wanted to make sure that we set aside money for all of the matches that we need to meet on the different projects that we have, because there's always a certain percentage match that we have to have and we were able to do that," Baca said.

Matching funds for these projects was allocated from water rights sold by Coast Range Investments Executive Vice President Jim Wood for the Rancho Cielo development along the west side of Interstate 25.

In late February and early March, the city received two payments totaling $1,229,300 for 15 percent of water rights sold and outlined in the subdivision agreement between Wood and the city when the property was purchased.

City administration focused on keeping the budget balanced, ensuring overspending was avoided and rewarding employees for staying with the city through 2010 financial woes that left 24 employees jobless.

Pushing through employee raises wasn't easy, Baca said, and at one point, city administrators didn't think it was going to become a reality.

"They have all really sacrificed and taken on several hats, so we thought they needed to get something for helping get us to where we're at," she said. "We've come a long way and it hasn't been because of us. It's been because of them."

City employees last received a raise more than five years ago.

Baca hopes this forward momentum can be built upon for next year.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.