Proposed FY21 Budget
Letter From Mayor Alan Webber
The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” is one of the most memorable in all literature:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . .”
It is a paragraph that could have been written today. In the first 8 months of fiscal year 2020, which began in July of 2019, Santa Fe truly enjoyed the best of times. Every part of our local economy was booming. We saw strong and steady growth in new housing starts in all parts of the market and in all parts of the city. Specific plans backed by specific funding sources were turning promises for more recreation, job training, and arts and culture on the Southside into reality. Our focus on renewable energy and a sustainable Local Green New Deal earned Santa Fe national environmental recognition. With all of that progress, we never lost sight of the basics: filling potholes, cleaning medians, and addressing public safety.
Then for the last 4 months of the 2020 fiscal year, the world turned upside down. COVID-19 threatened public health and safety, caused hotels to shut down, restaurants to close, and stores, shops and businesses to shutter. Beloved cultural events were cancelled. Jobs, schools, family gatherings, paychecks, and traditions were all victims of a global pandemic beyond anything any of us had ever seen. Nothing was the same. Nothing was familiar. Many things that used to work suddenly didn’t. That included the City’s finances.
In a matter of weeks we went from revenues that exceeded our estimates and expenditures, to revenues that fell below the budgeted amounts, to a $46 million shortfall for 2020 and a 2021 estimated shortfall that was roughly double that amount. We—all of us—found ourselves in uncharted waters facing unprecedented challenges.
Yet these new worst of times have also called out the best in us.
The people of Santa Fe rallied together to stop the initial spread of COVID-19. Across the city, people found new ways of living and created new systems to aid daily life, solutions that have helped all of us navigate this extraordinary time.
The City government mounted a rapid response to create a first-ever e-government, with the public’s business conducted through the internet, social media, television, and radio. The Land Use Department started using technology to issue e-permits for the many construction projects that continued to move ahead all over the community—and the tax revenue from those e-permitted projects helped to offset some of the losses caused by the plight of retail, hospitality, and tourism. We continued to move ahead on the midtown campus project with a series of “Meet the Developer” meetings hosted on the internet. Recognizing the threat to our homeless community posed by a potential outbreak of COVID-19—and the threat to all of us if such an outbreak were to happen—a team of City department heads moved boldly and decisively to create an emergency homeless shelter in moth-balled midtown dorms. Across the board and across the city, in all parts of our community, the response has been nimble, agile, creative, and compassionate. We have all benefited from the best response to the toughest of challenges.
Now as we present this budget for FY 2021, it is our time.
It is our time to lead, to stand up and to stand together. Santa Fe, we must meet the test of these time, making tough and smart decisions that make our city better today and create a strong foundation for tomorrow.
This budget does just that.
It is bold in some areas, gentle in others.
It seeks to do more with less and to deliver the services our community needs, expects, and deserves.
It embraces innovation and respects the fundamentals.
It continues to move City government forward toward professionalism, accountability, and transparency, and it recognizes the uncertainty that clouds our immediate future.
This time is unprecedented. This budget is unlike any other.
It is as much a process as it is a finished product. It will continue to evolve, change, and adapt as the conditions around us evolve, change, and adapt. With this budget we commit ourselves to regular, thorough, and consistent updates throughout the course of the year. Like the rest of the country, like every city in America, we are traveling on a twisting and winding road without a map, guided by our shared values, our commitment to each other, the leadership of the City Council, the hard work and professional competence of our City Manager and department heads, and our firm and unshakeable confidence in the people of Santa Fe.
As you open this budget, what will you see—and what won’t you see?
Here’s what you won’t see.
You won’t see us turning our backs on the priorities and commitments of the last two years. We won’t jettison our principles or our priorities when it comes to equity, inclusivity, respect, and opportunity for everyone in every part of our community.
You won’t see us turning away from our ongoing effort to put our own house in order; to make Santa Fe government serve all of Santa Fe; and to be more responsive, more efficient, and more effective in the work we do. We will do our best work to help you live your best life here in Santa Fe.
This budget builds on the accomplishments of the last two years—particularly on the responsible financial management that has been the hallmark of this administration. We have enjoyed strong tax revenues in the last two years, some of which we have invested in people, programs, and projects to serve you better. But some of that money we have used to build up our reserves: in the last two years we grew our General Fund reserve from $6 million to $14 million, recognizing that we would one day face a rainy day. Today we face not a rainy day but a torrential downpour of record proportions. Fortunately, we have that reserve to dip in to. Because of our reserve fund, there are three other things you will not see in this budget:
Beyond September 4, there are no furloughs of City employees.
The only City employees who will take a pay cut in this budget are at the director level. The paychecks of the hard-working employees of Santa Fe are untouched.
Some City employees will opt for early retirement; others may find themselves re-assigned; and many positions will go unfilled as we tighten our belt. But no one will lose their job because of the City’s revenue shortfall.
It is safe to say that almost without exception this budget contains no pay cuts, and it contains no furloughs and no layoffs.
At the same time, as we use our General Fund reserves, we are also looking to other potential sources of help, should hard times continue: we still call on the federal government to make direct assistance available to cities of all sizes, including Santa Fe; we are grateful to the Governor and the State Legislature for creating an emergency loan fund that we can access; and we have the ability to borrow from City enterprise funds as a last resort.
What will you see?
In a time of severe financial challenge, instead of simply cutting City government, we are re-imagining City government.
This budget accepts this crisis as an opportunity, a call to do more than just shed costs. Instead, in this budget we aim to re-shape and re-form City government, adopting an approach—a mindset—of increased effectiveness, improved efficiency, and enhanced collaboration in the name of community investment.
Last year the budget was a “people first” budget. We invested in the men and women in City government who go to work every day to work for you.
This year the budget is a “community first” budget. We are investing in ways large and small, innovative and traditional, to make life better for everyone in every part of Santa Fe.
The way to do that is to re-imagine and re-shape the way City government works for you.
The first step is to re-imagine the many independent departments that touch on neighborhood livability, jobs, housing, tourism, planning and zoning, permitting, arts, culture and recreation. Independently, each can help shape a better future for our children, families, businesses, workers, artists, and entrepreneurs. Together they can become an integrated, coordinated, and collaborative department that works across silos to get more done, more productively for all of Santa Fe. The Department of Community Development will deliver enhanced neighborhood livability and improved economic opportunity across the community.
The second step is to re-imagine the office of the City Clerk. With the transfer of most election functions to the County, the City Clerk’s office is poised to become something our community desperately needs: a welcoming, public-facing front door that opens City government to everyone in the city. By moving Constituent and Council Services into the City Clerk’s office, we will transform it into our Community Engagement Office, an information-and-data rich operation where the whole community can go to get answers to their questions, find updates on City programs and projects, examine records from the past, and offer input toward the City’s future.
The third step is the most forward-looking—and the most responsive to the moment we’re in: the creation of a Department of Community Health and Safety. Across the country cities are called upon to re-imagine the way public health and public safety can and should work together. In this budget we begin to make that happen. We re-balance the resources for Police, Fire, and Community Services, and introduce new ways for them to join hands in solving complex community problems, from law enforcement to fire-fighting to social services. Working together, we can not only solve problems—we can prevent them from ever happening. When someone in our community dials 9-1-1 for help, are they better served by a firefighter, a police officer, or a social worker—or one of each? If we invest in ending chronic homelessness, do we promote community health and also reduce the demands on our police? If we invest more in helping our seniors, do we reduce the number of calls to our firefighters? A Department of Community Health and Safety is a recognition that, from now on, community health and community safety belong together, are inseparable, are mutually supportive and must work together as a team.
As we go forward into this fiscal year, whether the times get easier or harder, I know that we will embrace this time as our time—our time to work as a community, stand as a community, unite as a community, and succeed as a community.
We will overcome COVID-19. We will re-establish not only our jobs and our economy, our schools and our businesses, but also our celebrations and traditions.
We will come through this time of change and challenge stronger, more resilient, more confident, and more united than ever. Together we are headed for better times and a better future for everyone in Santa Fe.
Thank you to all of Santa Fe,