BELEN — Every single city of Belen employee will be given a 3 percent raise beginning at the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, but police officers will be getting a bit more — a 15 percent raise.

The Belen City Council unanimously approved the expenditure last week in an effort to retain officers currently working for the BPD but also to recruit others.

During the council meeting last week, Roseann Peralta, the city’s finance director, presented the council with three salary increase options — 8, 11 and 15 percent — for police officers.

“We had the budget workshop on April 29 … and we discussed a lot of things. The only issue that was not set was the (salary) increases for the police department. I do feel there was an agreement of 3 percent across the board for all the employees.”

City Manager Andrew Salas presented the three different options, saying there was discussion at the workshop on the salary increases but the council didn’t have a consensus.

“We would like your sense of what would be appropriate for salary increases for the police department,” Salas said.

The city’s finance department gave the council the breakdown of the proposed increases, with the 8 percent costing taxpayers $56,773 more a year; 11 percent increase having a $101,869 increase a year; and the 15 percent would increase the annual payout by $161,997.

While the entire city workforce will get that 3 percent raise, three individual firefighters on the command staff will also receive a larger raise as well by using volunteer fire funds.

“We did talk about that in the budget hearing to use some of that funding to offset the issue we had in the salary ranges,” said Belen Fire Chief Nick Moya. “We just presented the issues themselves and not a fix.

“Just to clarify council and mayor, it wasn’t a general raise to the fund; it was actually bringing everybody into compliance with surrounding agencies, and making the pay scale fair and equitable for all employees,” Moya said. “The problem was that lieutenants were making more than certain officers under the deputy chief, that’s why we wanted to correct the scale.”

Councilor Frank Ortega said from what he remembers from the workshop was that the salary increase for the police department was 10 percent and 2.5 percent for the following two years.

“In our minds, it was a discussion and no decision was made,” Salas said. “That’s why we’re here tonight, and if that’s the sense of the council, we’ll run with that.”

Ortega said because the future earnings of gross receipts taxes is unknown, he was concerned about predicting the future and doesn’t want to have to layoff employees like the city did more than a decade ago.

“Roseann has done a really good job with the budget, making sure we have that 1/12 of the budget in reserves, which we are supposed to have in case of emergencies,” Ortega said. “I want to make sure our other employees know we value them as well. That’s way we need to give them that 3 percent across the board.”

Councilor Steve Holdman said he didn’t think the council came to a consensus about the police department salary increase at the workshop, saying the main objective was to bring their salary in comparison to other departments.

“Honestly, I don’t remember any agreement of 10 percent for the police and 2 1/2 (for the next two years),” Holdman said. “There was a great deal of discussion, and it was all over the board.

“As I mentioned before, state police received a 19 percent increase this year, Santa Fe just approved a 16 percent increase,” he said. “Our police department, even with a lesser increase, we’re right at Los Lunas’ (pay rate) even before they give their increase for the new fiscal year.”

Holdman said he is of the opinion that if the city wants to make a change, and quit being a city that trains officers for other departments, they need to give BPD officers a 15 percent raise.

Ortega said while he doesn’t disagree with Holdman, the city of Belen doesn’t have the same tax base as Santa Fe or Los Lunas.

Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. said he agreed 100 percent with Holdman, saying the city of Belen needs to retain police officers.

“My main concern is about our reserves and how much money we need to put into the bank in case of a rainy day,” Bernal said.

Peralta reminded the council the city is required to hold a reserve of at least 1/12 percent of the city’s expenses. The city also has its own finance policy that was adopted years ago, Peralta said, which requires a minimum cash reserve of 15 percent, and a maximum of 25 percent.

She said if the council approves the 15 percent raise, the city is in compliance with its policy of holding the 15 percent minimum.

Councilor Yvette Padilla said while she wasn’t against giving the police officers a 15 percent raise, she remembered the council coming to a consensus of 10 percent this year, with a 2.5 percent increase for the next two years.

Mayor Robert Noblin said if the council decided to do the 10 percent with raises for the next two years, they couldn’t encumber the next council to that vote.

After the council discussion, Bernal made a motion to approve a 15 percent raise for Belen police officers, approval of increases for the fire department and a 3 percent raise for all other city employees. Holdman seconded the motion, and the raises were approved unanimously.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.