Mayor Swearengin signs Fresno budget, but vetoes 3 items

The Fresno BeeJune 30, 2014 

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — The Fresno Bee

Mayor Ashley Swearengin signed Fresno's new budget on Monday, but the fight may not be over.

Three line-item vetoes totaling $600,000 of proposed spending have a way of disrupting things.

The council on June 19 approved a $1 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Tuesday that includes a $286 million general fund budget. The general fund is money spent at the council's discretion. Council members at the last minute added three general fund amendments:

• $100,000 to the Fresno Arts Council.

• An additional $50,000 to each council member's district infrastructure fund (total: $350,000).

• $150,000 to build a splash park at the Mosqueda Community Center in southeast Fresno.

Swearengin on Monday vetoed all three.

"Those motions were for good causes and worthwhile projects," Swearengin said in her one-page veto message, "and if we had a 10% operating reserve and sufficient police and fire-staffing levels, I would have no problem supporting them. However, that is not the case."

Each of the three amendments passed on a 4-3 vote. The council can override a veto with five votes. The council's next scheduled meeting is July 17.

According to records at the City Clerk's Office, Swearengin has issued seven vetoes since she took office in January 2009. The council attempted to override three involving disputes over council-mayor budget authority. All three failed.

Swearengin's latest vetoes come as no surprise.

She unveiled a budget a month ago that predicted a modest boost to revenues. She touted some additional spending -- more fire department equipment, for example -- but mainly wanted 12 months of status-quo service levels.

Swearengin's big push is foundation-building. She wants to pay off millions in internal loans this year. She wants to begin rebuilding a general fund reserve all but depleted during the Great Recession. Do all that, she said, then we'll talk splash parks.

Several council members during June's budget hearings toyed with an idea always popular at City Hall: Spend today, let someone else build the rainy day account.

The three last-minute spending amendments -- each receiving the votes of Council Members Blong Xiong, Oliver Baines, Paul Caprioglio and Sal Quintero -- sailed through with no debate or public input.

Swearengin last week added a twist to her State of the City address, usually an occasion for endless praise, by getting political. The three amendments would be vetoed, she said.

Swearengin in her veto message echoed her State of the City conviction.

If city leaders stay on a prudent financial course, Swearengin said, "we will have achieved true financial stability within the next five years, a full 10 years ahead of our original projections."

It's too soon to guess whether the council will shoot for overrides. One thing is clear, though: There's enthusiasm, not to mention need, for the extra spending.

Caprioglio is a big supporter of the extra infrastructure cash, saying it would allow council members to do targeted and prompt neighborhood improvements. He grumbled late Monday afternoon, before the vetoes became official. He fears he can't convince one of the opponents -- Council President Steve Brandau and Council Members Lee Brand and Clint Olivier -- to switch sides.

"They want the money but they won't vote for it," Caprioglio said.

Lilia Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, said Monday her nonprofit is solvent but could do so much more to spur the community's vibrant art world with financial help.

And the splash park at Dickey Playground on the north edge of downtown was open for business on a scorching Monday. The place was packed.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272, ghostetter@fresnobee.com or @GeorgeHostetter on Twitter.

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