City prioritizes paying legal fees, increasing wages

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BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield City Council has established two primary goals this year while budgeting for fiscal year 2019 — increasing compensation for employees who saw pay cuts two years ago and paying part of the $700,000 the city owes in legal fees to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The City Council looked at ways it could meet those goals while addressing several needs during a budget work session Wednesday evening.

The preliminary fiscal year 2019 budget calls for about $12.2 million in expenditures. The city estimates nearly $12.5 million in revenue.

The preliminary fiscal year 2019 budget calls for paying $233,000 toward the money it owes from the Ten Commandments lawsuit. The city can either make payments or pay the entire $700,000 in 2021.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of two Bloomfield residents who alleged a Ten Commandments monument located in front of City Hall violated their First Amendment rights. A district judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the city appealed the case until the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear the case in October. The monument has since been moved to a nearby church.

The city is required to have about $479,000 in reserves in its general fund. It is projecting it will end fiscal year 2018 with $450,000 in that fund.

The preliminary budget projects $6.9 million in revenues for the general fund in fiscal year 2019 and less than $5.8 million in expenditures. The city would end fiscal year 2019 with about $567,000, which is about $87,000 more than it is required to have in reserve in the general fund.

City finance director Brad Ellsworth said the city has seen an increase in gross receipts taxes, but he said the increase is a production of an increase in the tax rate.                                                                  

Bloomfield officials will continue evaluating the budget throughout June and July leading up to adopting the final budget for fiscal year 2019.

Department heads present proposed budgets

Department heads presented proposed budgets to the City Council during the Wednesday evening meeting.

The City Council will have to decide which requests, if any, it will fund in fiscal year 2019.

“If we were to do everything presented tonight, we would have a net loss in the general fund of about $310,000,” Ellsworth told the City Council.

The requests range from upgrades and repairs to the heating and cooling systems to hiring additional staff members.

Fire Chief John Mohler asked for two new employees who would work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays when it is hard to find volunteers.

The police department is reducing the number of its officers by two full-time and one half-time positions. Chief Randy Foster is asking to use the money the department saves through the staff reductions to increase pay for officers.

Foster is asking to give at least a 5 percent pay increase to officers, which would help bring their salaries closer to what officers make at other local police departments. Currently, an entry-level police officer in Bloomfield makes $18.87 per hour. The Aztec Police Department pays entry-level officers $22.34, according to numbers presented to the council.

Foster is asking to increase the pay for entry-level officers to $24 an hour.

Foster said the additional savings from the staff reductions could be used to purchase new police vehicles and offset some of the money the fire department is requesting for additional staff.

The city has several major infrastructure projects planned for the future, but will likely need grant funding to pay for those projects. Many of those grants require a local match.

Public Works director Jason Thomas has proposed transferring $500,000 from the utility fund into a projects fund that will help provide that local match if the city secures the grants. Those projects include the wastewater treatment plant replacement and rehabilitation or replacement of a drinking water storage tank.

Bloomfield has $500,000 of capital outlay money for the water storage tank, but the city is estimating it will cost $1.6 million to replace the tank.

Some of the cash balance also will be used to pay for the relocation of utilities along the East Blanco Bridge. The city has received a $300,000 grant with a $100,000 local match to pay for the relocation.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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