Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is looking at the possibility of providing pay increases for certain public safety positions in state government agencies that have high vacancy rates.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell says positions being considered for possible pay increases include child-protection caseworkers, police officers, corrections officers and juvenile justice workers.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Democratic Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela of Santa Fe wrote to Martinez on Friday to ask her to fill vacancies in the Protective Services and Juvenile Justice Services divisions of the state Children, Youth and Families Department. CYFD has been a target of criticism recently because of a lack of oversight at a juvenile ranch in southern New Mexico that led to a police raid and an Amber Alert earlier this month.
Varela said high vacancy rates in positions protecting at-risk children contribute to staff burnout that creates still more vacancies. He argued that increasing compensation and benefits to state employees would draw in new workers to occupy the available positions.
There are at least eleven state-run departments with 16 to 22 percent vacancy rates, with the Regulation and Licensing department leading with 22.3 percent of their desks empty.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that the Legislative Finance Committee, which Varela chairs, said the state had $139 million to spend on pay raises and hiring for the current budget year that began July 1.
Knell told the Journal in August that raises were being considered and that they would have to be targeted to those positions that are harder to recruit, potentially unsafe, or not currently compensated at a level inline with other states. He explained that money that goes unspent builds the state's budget reserves and that considering the overall economy is important too.