Belen's P&Z won't be paid for work

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It was how the message was delivered that is irritating some of Belen's Planning and Zoning Commission members when they learned they won't be paid for their efforts.

Commissioners learned through an email four days before their May 28 meeting that they would stop receiving their $75 stipend for attending the commission's monthly meetings.

"I don't think anybody does it for the money," said Roderick Storey, the commission's chairman. "It's a responsibility that we've all taken for years — for some of us — but it was kind of abrupt and unexpected. There was no discussion."

Storey was notified of the change through an email, not a formal letter, from Belen City Manager Mary Lucy Baca on April 30. But he didn't see it until four days before the May meeting when he forwarded the information on to his fellow commissioners.

How one delivers a message is important, said Dubra Karnes-Padilla, the commission's former vice chairwoman. Karnes-Padilla resigned from the commission the day after the May 28 meeting.

She wrote in her letter of resignation her decision to resign was due to needing "to allocate more time" to her other volunteer activities, including Big Brother Big Sisters of Central New Mexico and El Corazon de Belen Community Garden.

Baca said she was sorry to see Karnes-Padilla leave, since she's been a great contributor to the commission and the city.

During the city's 2013-14 budget hearings, Baca began combing through each department's finances in search of areas where the city could cut back and save money.

"We have to be real careful with our funding and we have to watch our pennies before we can say yes to anything," Baca said.

A few extras the city had to forego were higher raises for city employees and additional employees in the streets department and the library.

Baca said research shows most cities throughout the state don't pay their planning and zoning commissioners. No other city committee, board or commission that serves gets paid. The city is saving $4,500 a year by stopping the commissioner's stipends.

With the amount of work required from the commission, including extra time outside of meetings to create ordinances, master plans and having the knowledgeable background needed to make recommendations to the council, some form of a stipend seems warranted, Storey said.

"We're in it for the betterment of the city, and it would've been nice to have more communication from the city manager and the council and mayor. We were not made apart of the decision-making process," he said.

If the city's financial situation was better, Baca said she would like to compensate members on all committees and boards for their participation, but this isn't the case right now.

"If we had plenty of money, I would love to pay all of them," Baca said. "And maybe someday we will."

The city's financial records showed commissioners were paid this stipend since 2005, but the city's finance clerk, Roseann Peralta, said she didn't know how much longer before that commissioners received this compensation.

Previously, commissioners were paid the stipend even if they didn't attend meetings, but Baca said she changed that in 2010 to require commissioners attend meetings to be paid.


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