What to wish for in the next fiscal year | Commentary

The Santa Fe City Council will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday on the 2022 fiscal year budget that begins July 1. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes in these days of Zooming reality.

I know what I’m advocating for.

Budgeting is minutiae posing as a dream. It also is pretty boring. The best budgeting advice I ever got was from the wizened treasurer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, Ray Gee: A budget is not a goal, and it’s only good when expectations are exceeded.

That means starting with the income side, not the expense side. Costs of doing business do not drive budget. You can only spend what you bring in. Budgets always begin with recent history informed by metric-based trends.

That went out the window this fiscal year, which is why the city is starting its process a little earlier. Inevitably, most appeals will forget the rule of income first and go right for what is wished.

There is certainly room for hope as we move into a bright summer start to the fiscal year, but like the monsoons, you just never know. The city is not projecting a flat budget, meaning it won’t be a repeat of the worst fiscal year in modern memory, but it cannot afford to be wildly speculative with so many unknowns to come.

That means rearranging the deck chairs while the ship is still listing.

Can we all agree housing is the most urgent issue facing our city? It certainly was in March 2018 at the beginning of the current administration. Since then, the crisis has worsened, and it would have even without the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are two city departments that have historically suffered from the taint of development interests and accusations of coziness to the players — Land Use and Affordable Housing. Politically, they have been easy to relegate to back burners. That has to stop.

The best public budget advice now is suggesting which deck chairs — i.e., individual city departments — will be sunny and safe. It is time to fully fund, employ and empower Land Use and Affordable Housing and their competent staffs to work toward solving the housing crisis.

Land Use is still reeling from the loss of its two longtime long-range planners and the two sustainability experts who literally invented and verified green and sustainable building codes in Santa Fe, the best in the country. It’s a big department with a great diversity of key professions not easily filled when penny-pinching policies thwart recruitment of top professionals.

When pay scales for subordinates demand as much or more than what the bosses are making, you’ve got a problem.

Affordable Housing has the opposite problem. It’s too small. Basically, it’s just its leader, Alexandra Ladd. She is a tireless professional and has been for a decade, but the importance of giving that office the resources it needs cannot be overstated. If the city were to ever create a housing czar to oversee every aspect of housing, development, affordability, growth, sustainability, fairness and equity, it wouldn’t have to look far.

The city wants to hear what Santa Feans think is important. Zoom in Wednesday. Be positive and productive. If you can’t help expressing a fiscal wish, make it for funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Kim Shanahan has been a Santa Fe green builder since 1986 and a sustainability consultant since 2019. Contact him at [email protected].

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