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New budget adds city hall, public safety jobs


The Las Cruces City Council approved a $596.6 million budget during a meeting on May 20 that adds 21 new jobs and supplies $165.1 million to the general fund.

The $13 million increase to the general fund comes from the new positions, which city staff say will allow the city to work more efficiently and fill needs previously unaddressed. The vote also spent about 28 million from the city’s “rainy day fund” for several projects, but mostly toward affordable housing. 

“We started this budget process with a different city manager, and to go through a transition, I appreciate the budget team and staff having their patience with me,” City Manager Ikani Taumoepeau said. 

The vote is one of the final steps in the month-long process of determining a budget that funds all activities within the city of Las Cruces. This document must fund everything from police salaries and operations to park improvements and pothole alleviation. Most of those items are funded by the city’s general fund. State officials must validate the budget before it goes into effect on July 1. 

“I think this year we passed a bold budget that is reflective of our challenges and the people we love most,” said Councilor Johana Bencomo.

Perhaps this budget’s most notable feature is the number of jobs it creates. Specifically, the budget funds 14 new jobs for public safety.

Las Cruces Fire Department added a social worker, a public educator and funding for four new firefighters. Las Cruces Police Department adds three park rangers and four technicians to staff a new police surveillance system. 

Public safety is by far the most funded item in the entire budget. The police department received about $38 million, while fire and emergency services received about $26 million. Together, public safety receives more than the next five departments combined. 

A graphic illustration of the proposed city of Las Cruces budget for next year is displayed during the city council meeting on May 20.
A graphic illustration of the proposed city of Las Cruces budget for next year is displayed during the city council meeting on May 20.

Still, police salaries became one of several contentious points during budget talks. Councilor Yvonne Flores questioned why police salaries were not being increased more. She called their current salaries “Mickey Mouse pay.”

“My humble opinion is that police officers are underpaid. I mean, they put their lives on the line day-to-day, minute-to-minute. And, my understanding of their pay is, and I hate to use this word, but it’s criminal,” Flores said. 

LCPD Chief Jeremy Story clarified that police officers’ salaries are determined via a contract between the city and the police officers’ union. That contract is up for negotiations next year, Story said.

When the council approved the last contract in 2021, it came with salary increases for police officers. Flores, a councilor since 2017, appeared unaware of this process. 

“What you all do is like magic to me,” Flores said, referring to city staff. “If I ask a question that sounds stupid, it’s because I’m ignorant.”

According to the city, the starting salary for police cadets who are accepted into the academy is $20 per hour. Upon graduation from the academy, officer trainees receive $24 per hour. Trainees who complete their one-year probationary period earn a wage of $28.83 per hour. That’s a starting yearly salary of about $60,000. For comparison, the median household income of Las Cruces is $47,722. 

Police officers’ pay wasn’t the only public safety-centered controversy in what is typically a routine vote. 

Councilors Flores and Bill Mattiace voted against an amendment that sent $300,000 to the formation of a diversion court to address homelessness. Mattiace and Flores raised the issue of where the money was coming from, not necessarily where it was going. 

The 2024 budget also spent about $28 million from the Telshor fund, prompting Mattiace and Flores to voice concern about reducing the fund's value. 

The Telshor fund had about $42 million. The money came from a one-time payment from Memorial Medical Center to lease the hospital's land resides. That money has been invested while small portions have been spent. Now, all but about $14 million will be spent on a slew of capital projects. 

Shawna Pfeiffer, a Las Cruces resident and member of the group Businesses for a Safer Las Cruces, pointed out that the agenda did not include discussion or spending of the Telshor fund. 

“I don’t see anything in the agenda that we’re voting on the Telshor Fund,” Pfeiffer said. “Why do we have to wrap all this up into one vote?”

The majority of the council, sans Flores, seemed satisfied with the budget. 

“When I get emails (telling us) to do something, this is something,” said Councilor Cassie McClure. 

Las Cruces City Council, budget