Fresno council OKs $1 billion budget, but Swearengin vetoes loom

The Fresno BeeJune 19, 2014 

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — The Fresno Bee

The Fresno City Council on Thursday sent Mayor Ashley Swearengin a $1 billion budget for next year.

Swearengin wasted no time sending the council a tactful reminder of who wields the veto pen.

The council on a 5-2 vote approved a spending plan that calls for an uptick in services, a bump to the reserve and City Hall's version of a mortgage-burning party.

Council Members Blong Xiong and Sal Quintero voted no.

The city charter gives the council authority to tinker with the budget. Two council members took the opportunity.

Council Member Oliver Baines moved to contribute $100,000 to the Fresno Arts Council, a nonprofit that promotes the arts.

Quintero moved to add $50,000 to each council district's infrastructure fund, giving the council members $100,000 each. Council members use the money for things like street maintenance. That added $350,000 to the budget.

Quintero also moved to spend $150,000 to build a splash park at Mosqueda Community Center in southeast Fresno. He represents the area.

Total additional spending: $600,000.

That went on top of an estimated $1.2 million in extra spending approved by the council at Monday's hearing, mostly for street maintenance.

Add it all up and the council asked for about $1.8 million in extra spending.

There are two doses of reality.

Council members didn't bother to find $1.8 million of budgetary fat. That responsibility would fall on the shoulders of Swearengin and City Manager Bruce Rudd. The city manager has warned council members they probably won't like his trimming technique.

And Swearengin has line-item veto authority.

She didn't bludgeon the council with that threat. She hopes a polite hint does the trick.

"Our council members need to remember that the city's top priority should be to finish our economic recovery by providing a practical, balanced plan for a sustainable financial future," Swearengin said after the meeting.

"By adding new spending at the last minute, we risk our long-term stability for short-term fixes," Swearengin said. "My hope is that we can work with the council to scale back their last-minute spending and focus on long-term financial health for the city."

Swearengin has 10 business days after officially receiving the budget to take action.

Thursday's meeting most likely ended the most intense part of an annual budget chore that sometimes trickles into late summer.

The blueprint calls for $286.4 million of general fund spending in the fiscal year that begins July 1. This is money spent at the electeds' discretion.

The budget includes more police cadets, new equipment for the Fire Department and rebuilding a general fund reserve that almost disappeared during the Great Recession.

If everyone toes the line on spending, Swearengin said, City Hall can finally retire the $36 million internal-loan debt that got Wall Street in such a tizzy.

Thursday's meeting saw Fire Chief Kerri Donis and more than a dozen supporters make a spirited effort to rescue her fire-inspection plan. Some council members, with administration support, want to move two inspectors to the planning department and eliminate four other inspector positions.

Council approval of the budget handed a defeat to Donis. But very little is forever at City Hall. Rudd said he will review fire-inspection reform with Donis over the next 45 days.

Rudd after the meeting said the budget really isn't in a $1.8 million hole. He said the council's desire for $1 million-plus in additional streets spending can be handled without a budget amendment.

And what about the Arts Council subsidy, that extra $350,000 for council district potholes and the kiddies' splash park? Each of those motions passed on a 4-3 vote. It takes five votes to override a veto.

Rudd said with a smile: "We'll see what the mayor does."

 

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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