Mayor Lee Brand described his proposed 2020 Fresno budget as “status quo.”
Not much is different in FY 2020’s $1.187 billion spending plan, a 3.5% increase from FY 2019.
“It maintains all the existing services, with only three positions added in the general fund portion. We simply don’t have the revenues we need to support this city,” Brand said.
Largest Reserve Fund
However, Brand pointed with pride at the city’s healthy reserve fund.
“By all accounts, we are one of the best-managed cities in America,” the mayor said.
The budget includes $346 million in the general fund, which is then allocated to many of the city’s departments. The reserve will be $34 million, or 10%. Brand said it is the highest reserve in city history, and a goal reached four years ahead of projections.
“That is great news. Especially when you remember that just six short years ago, we were looking at a substantial negative fund balance and the city was literally one paycheck away from bankruptcy. We’ve come a long way the last few years, but we are not out of the woods yet,” Brand said.
The mayor warned, though, that incoming money to the city is insufficient to meet the city’s needs and residents’ desires.
“While Fresno is enjoying a strong economy and revenues are steadily increasing, operating costs are increasing at a higher level. This is Fresno’s reality,” Brand said. “Our economic base simply does not create enough revenue from property tax, sales tax, and other sources to meet our needs as a city.”
Those operating costs include adding nearly 700 employees since Brand took office in January 2017.
While unemployment levels are low, the revenue isn’t there to expand core city services, Brand said.
“The mayor wants a legacy of better financial footing, but the question is, when are we going to fundamentally improve our neighborhoods?” — Councilman Miguel Arias
Councilman Miguel Arias, however, questioned the wisdom of having a reserve that large.
“The mayor wants a legacy of better financial footing, but the question is, when are we going to fundamentally improve our neighborhoods?” Arias said.
Public safety spending is proposed at $276 million, 11.4% more than last year.
Most of the money will be spent on infrastructure improvements rather than hiring more police officers and firefighters.
Sworn police officers remain at 835. Eight dispatchers added in the middle of last year will be retained.
Police chief Jerry Dyer said he would like to see more staff to help with such areas as community policing, financial and property crimes, and dispatchers.
“I don’t think there is a magic number in terms that we should shoot for. But, I think progress has to be made in terms of hiring police,” Dyer said.
Dyer said much of the spending for his department will concentrate on infrastructure: 71 new vehicles, ballistic vests, and upgrades to the Skywatch helicopter operation.
On paper, the fire department will be down 32 firefighters, to a total of 302. That is because of the termination of the contract with the North Central Fire Protection District.
City manager Wilma Quan says, however, minimum daily staffing will increase to 80. The budget calls for $3.5 million to build Fire Station 18, at Shaw and Grantland avenues in northwest Fresno. Developer fees to be collected will pay for half of the station’s cost. The budget document says the rest “will be identified at a future date.”
Overall spending on the parks department increased by only 0.2% to $31.68 million.
Brand’s parks budget, however, calls for $20 million from the general fund, a 4.6% increase from last year.
PARCS (as the acronym is known at City Hall) uses 5.4% of the general fund budget. By comparison, the police department gets 49.9%, and the fire department 18.3%.
The most significant change announced Wednesday is that the current Development and Resource Management Dept. will be split in two — planning and development, and neighborhood services. The process will take two years.
Planning and development will consist of planning, building and safety, historic preservation, parking, and housing and community development.
The speed at which the planning department approves projects became a contentious issue for Brand over the last two years. At one point, councilman Garry Bredefeld championed a money-back guarantee plan to force approvals by a certain timetable, or have the money refunded to the developer. The council approved a version of Bredefeld’s idea last year.
The budget calls for three additional hires to help with meeting timelines set by the Bredefeld plan.
Neighborhood services will consist of code enforcement, neighborhood revitalization, and rental housing. The city budgeted for 44 code enforcement staff, and 24 rental housing staff, the same as last year.
Brand will officially present the budget to the council on June 3. The council will ultimately have the power to make changes and approve.
(GV Wire’s Bill McEwen contributed to this story.)