ALAMOSA — While presidential candidates debated the national economy, Alamosa city councilors debated the local city budget Wednesday night.
The council on a 6-1 vote ultimately approved the 2013 city budget of about $15 million on first reading and scheduled a public hearing for their 7 p.m. October 17th meeting.
A passionate debate about senior citizen funding and council attendance at budget work sessions preceded the first-reading budget approval.
Alamosa City Councilor Marcia Tuggle, the council’s liaison to the Alamosa Senior Citizen Center board, urged fellow councilors to shift the proposed 2013 budget funding to provide $1,000 more to the seniors. She made a motion to that effect but gained no second, so the motion died. She cast the single dissenting vote on the first-reading budget approval.
Other members of council essentially said if Tuggle had wanted to discuss this item, she should have attended the budget work session regarding nonprofit funding. Tuggle said that was the only work session on the budget she missed, but her job required her to be out of town that evening. She added she had driven more than two hours on Wednesday to make sure she would be at the council meeting where the budget would be formally discussed.
Tuggle said the seniors received $20,000 from the city a couple of years ago but last year were late in submitting their budget so the city council only awarded them $15,000. It is that figure on which the 2013 budgeted amount to the seniors is based, Tuggle said. That is not fair to them, Tuggle argued, because the city council has encouraged the seniors to do everything they could to improve their financial situation, and they have. The seniors have had a management change and have sought various forms of revenue including numerous fund-raising events. They are planning a fund-raising dinner today (Oct. 6), for example.
Tuggle argued that while the seniors will receive $10,000 plus $7,800 paid for their rent, which seems like an increase, it is less than they received two years ago, before they were penalized for turning in their request late.
“I feel they have done everything that council asked them to do but you are basing their funding on funding that was a penalty last year,” Tuggle said. “It feels like they are being punished.”
She suggested that $1,000 be shifted from the amount budgeted for the South Central Seniors to the Alamosa Senior Citizens. The total budget would remain unchanged.
“It gives the senior center a little bit more,” Tuggle said.
Mayor Kathy Rogers said she wished Tuggle had been at the work session when this was discussed, because the council had extensive discussion about the nonprofit funding. She added she was not opposed to Tuggle’s suggestion.
Councilman Charles Griego said the council had a long discussion on this.
“If anybody’s going to support the seniors, it’s me,” Griego said.
“I appreciate Marcia’s comments, but it’s very very important to sit in these budget meetings and have your input every meeting.”
He said it was not fair for the rest of the council and staff to spend their time at the budget work sessions and then have to go through the budget again.
The council retreats and budget sessions are the most important sessions of the year for councilors to attend, Griego added.
Councilman Josef Lucero agreed with Griego. He said he believed the seniors should increase the price they charge for lunch, which is currently $2. Those who cannot pay the $2 still get to eat. Lucero said although he thought the city’s “hand-outs” were wonderful, an organization like this needs to be more self sufficient “and start doing things for themselves.”
He said, “We all love our seniors, but sometimes our seniors might have to stand up for themselves.”
Tuggle said, “I deeply resent your remarks, because I made all the budget meetings except this one, and I have a job that requires me to travel, and I did everything I could to get to every one of those budget meetings. This is the one I could not make it to.”
She said she had attended the retreats and the meetings except that one budget session where the seniors were discussed, and it was just not possible with her work schedule to be there that evening. She said she was not going to lose her job to attend one meeting.
She added she understood the budget process and how hard people worked on it, but the process also allows for minor changes to be made, and that was what she was requesting.
Tuggle also responded to Lucero’s suggestion that the lunch price be increased at the senior center. She said a lot of people who go to the senior lunches simply do not have money, and that is what the senior meal program is for, to give seniors at least one nutritious meal a day.
Lucero said, “But we have places like La Puente that can handle people that don’t have any money to eat.”
Griego told Tuggle that when he made his remarks about how important it was to attend retreats and budget sessions, he did not specifically mention her name, but “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
Councilman Leland Romero said the city council meetings are televised and regardless of how councilors felt, they needed to appear professional in front of the camera.