Socorro council approves offset for employees
The Socorro City Council approved a resolution to offset the rising cost of retirement for city employees during the council’s regular meeting June 3, which tied in to a later discussion of how well the city is managing its finances in spite of the recession.
During the regular legislative session this year, state lawmakers approved changes to the Public Employees Retirement Association pension plan that included a 1.5 percent increase in the employee contribution rate for public employees who earn more than $20,000 per year. The pension plan changes are effective July 1. Mayor Ravi Bhasker said that means public employees in New Mexico will take home 1.5 percent less in their paychecks.
“The City Council is asked, by myself and the budget committee, to pass a resolution to attempt to make the playing field a little more even from what the state Legislature did in order to make themselves feel better,” Bhasker said. “… What the Legislature did was, to make themselves solvent at the PERA level, was to have all employees increase their contribution to the PERA by 1.5 percent.”
City clerk Pat Salome said with approval of the resolution, the city is covering the entire 1.5 percent increase in PERA contribution for police and fire employees, and 75 percent of the increase for the city’s general employees.
Councilor Gordon Hicks moved to approve the measure, Resolution 13-06-03a, and Councilor Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez seconded the motion.
Salome suggested that the council wait to adopt the resolution until the PERA has a chance to look at it, and then approve it at the next meeting June 17. He said he prefers one resolution with everything in one place, but PERA could come back and say the city needs a separate resolution for each retirement plan.
Councilor Donald Monette, who has chaired the city’s budget committee for over a decade, said the committee discussed that aspect and wanted to make sure the city has PERA approval before approving the resolution.
Councilor Michael Olguin amended Hicks’ motion to state “pending PERA approval.” Councilors unanimously approved the amendment. Following more discussion, they approved the resolution unanimously as well.
During the budget committee report a few minutes later, Monette noted the council met May 29 and approved the city’s preliminary budget to send to the state. He said one of the highlights was that the city was able to absorb much of the employee contribution increase to PERA.
“It’s not a raise, but it’s not a decrease because it’s not being charged to the employees, which it otherwise would have been,” Monette said.
He added the city’s preliminary budget also includes a 1 percent anniversary raise for city employees, with no furloughs and without cutting any positions.
“And we didn’t raise rates,” Monette said.
“Or taxes,” Salome added.
Bhasker said the city’s medical coverage only went up 1.5 percent. He said the average increase was about 10 or 15 percent.
City finance director Mable Gonzales said the 1.5 percent health insurance increase will not be an increase to city employees.
Monette added the city has not cut any services; it has expanded its parks and recreation department, in fact.
“And that compliment is to the employees,” Bhasker said, “The division directors and the employees are cross-trained to do not just their work, but other work. It’s just tremendous.”
Gonzales added that it is a balanced budget.
“So no sequester for us,” Bhasker said.
In other business, the Socorro City Council:
- Approved first reading of a land sale to Blue Collar Construction. Bhasker said Blue Collar was requesting to buy another five acres from the city. Salome explained the previous ordinance couldn’t be modified to include the additional five acres, so the city is just reversing the first land sale ordinance and passing a new ordinance for all of the land Blue Collar wants to purchase.
- Wrote off $46,927.18 in uncollectable utility accounts from 2008.
- Approved a change order to the Highlands Park detention pond project, which is contingent on approval of the state Department of Finance and Administration. Bhasker said the city received a letter from a landowner who thought the dike may be encroaching on a right of way. Bhasker said there is plenty of money left for the change order as the bid came in very low for the project; the change order will cost about $20,000. City utilities division director Jay Santillanes said it will change the height and width of the dike. Santillanes said the perception among property owners was that the dike would disallow construction of a road in the future.