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As Santa Fe struggles with shortfall, cuts to public safety may be limited

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April 21, 2020

As the city of Santa Fe faces a potential $46 million budget shortfall, the extent to which it will impact the city's emergency services staff is yet to be fully known.

Mayor Alan Webber announced employee furloughs Monday, at either four or 16 hours a week, but for now, public safety employees will see only a minimum impact.

Detective Tony Trujillo, president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, said Tuesday only three of its members will be subject to furloughs — for now — and there have been no cuts to officer pay.

But that doesn't mean pay cuts aren't coming.

According to Trujillo, the mayor said there is a possibility of cuts within the Santa Fe Police Department, but that nothing has been set in stone.

"The mayor informed us that we won't have the data to make the decision until around mid-May, maybe a little bit earlier. That's the end of the quarter, and he'll know what the gross receipts tax looks like," Trujillo said. "They don't look good."

If the news is really bad, Trujillo said, officers could face a 1 percent pay cut.

On Monday, Webber said the city is estimating a loss of $15 million to $21 million in gross receipts tax in four months.

The response, and decisions regarding employee pay, can change rapidly.

On Tuesday, Trujillo thought 12 union members, including crime scene and evidence technicians, animal control officers and other non-sworn employees, would be subject to furloughs.

In a late afternoon phone call, the mayor dropped that number to three people in administrative secretarial positions, Trujillo said. People with similar job descriptions in other departments will be furloughed, so they had to do the same within the police department.

Whether police Chief Andrew Padilla and other ranking officers will receive pay cuts is unknown.

Padilla did not return messages Tuesday seeking comment about possible pay cuts within the department.

Asked whether union members, lieutenants, captains, deputy chiefs and Padilla would see pay cuts ranging from 1 percent to 15 percent, city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon answered by saying the question was "not accurate."

"We're discussing furloughs, which means a pay cut for everyone of four hours," Chacon wrote in an email Tuesday. "PD [police department] as public safety as front line will be limited in impact."

The city also did not answer questions about whether the police department would be subject to a spending freeze and if there would be any impact on planned purchases and renovations to its evidence room.

Members of the Santa Fe firefighters union are facing similar circumstances.

"There are members that are concerned," said union President Adan Lopez, a firefighter paramedic. "They're concerned for themselves, they're concerned for their brothers, and they're still concerned with the community."

Union members will be furloughed, Lopez said, but he is still working with city management to figure out what that will look like.

One thing that is no go for fire and police is a change to health benefits.

The city is facing a $1.45 million increase to its employer contribution costs for its employee medical insurance.

While controversial, the possibility of raising copays and deductibles is on the table.

City Councilor Roman "Tiger" Abeyta said Monday that an increase to deductibles will save $900,000, while higher copays will save $500,000.

"I wouldn't be too happy with any of that change," Lopez said. "Any public safety personnel, a lot of people go into this knowing that the pay is not the best, but the benefits are what makes it worth it."

Even worse would be to change employee insurance benefits during a health crisis, he said.

But one of Trujillo's biggest concerns is retaining officers.

The department has around 20 vacancies, he said, and there have been some recent retirements and a few officers leaving for other agencies.

A report by the National Police Foundation released last year showed the city had struggled to recruit officers even as the city's population grew. The department announced in February its plan to increase cadet pay and offer hiring incentives in an effort to attract new officers.

The fear, Trujillo said, is if the police department cuts pay, officers may leave and look for work elsewhere.

"Through no fault of the mayor's, we would be back to square one when we were losing all those officers to Albuquerque Police Department," he said.

While Trujillo said he appreciates that the mayor is prioritizing public safety, the union will not support pay changes for any of its members.

"Any percentage or any furlough, you know, being incurred by our union, we will not agree to that," Trujillo said. "We will not give our blessing to that. They can impose it and they will impose it if necessary, but we will not put our stamp of approval on it."

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