Fresno’s public safety system will get a big boost in Mayor Ashley’s Swearengin’s proposed 2016 budget.
Swearengin, Police Chief Jerry Dyer, Fire Chief Kerri Donis and other top city officials gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to review exactly what this means.
In a nutshell:
• Forty-three police officers will be added over the course of the 2015-16 fiscal year. Most will be on patrol duty.
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• Two school resource officers will work in the Fort Miller Middle School area in central Fresno. The mayor said their arrival comes in direct response to parents’ concerns that student safety at the campus has deteriorated.
• Four officers will support Fresno Area Express buses, especially in the Manchester Center/Blackstone Avenue corridor.
• Fifty police cars will be replaced, another step in a multi-year effort to modernize the fleet.
• Thirteen firefighters will be added, raising the minimum staffing at any given hour to 73 from 70.
• A truck company will be added to Station 9, giving the department its second two-company station.
• City officials are committed to replacing the Fire Department’s aging fleet at an estimated cost of $10.5 million over the next eight years.
• City officials promise to get things moving toward modernization of a Fire Department maintenance building that is a mere 100 years old.
Many of these promises were aired Monday afternoon when Swearengin unveiled her $1.2 billion budget. The spending plan of 300-plus pages heads to the City Council later this month. Budget hearings begin in June.
What made Tuesday’s news conference different was City Hall’s focused effort to explain how the numbers fit into a system of improved service to Fresno’s 520,000 residents spread over 112 square miles.
Dyer said more cops on neighborhood patrol will mean faster response to calls for service. He said beefed-up patrols will keep gangs in check while building a sense of well-being among citizens.
Donis said the replacement of aging equipment will improve safety for citizens and firefighters alike. She plans to hold city officials to their vow to take a hard look at the maintenance shop, noting that the place still has horseshoes from the days when Fresno’s firefighting equipment was hauled by horsepower of the literal kind.
Council Member Sal Quintero on Monday described Swearengin’s proposed budget as a good start to upcoming hearings. Tuesday’s event included Council Members Lee Brand, Paul Caprioglio and Esmeralda Soria, who echoed Quintero’s sentiments.
Brand, who came to City Hall with Swearengin in January 2009 just as the Great Recession smacked into Fresno, said it’s a joy to talk about restoring services.
“Fresno is the comeback city,” Brand said.
Caprioglio said Fresno, through hard work, has gotten over the hump of financial trouble. Fresnans are embarked on efforts “to re-establish this great city,” he said.
Soria, who took office in January, said she’s looking forward to her first round of budget debates.
“I am encouraged by the proposed funding for public safety,” she said.
Quintero, Brand, Caprioglio, Soria — for City Hall nose-counters, that’s already four of seven council members with generally favorable views of Swearengin’s spending plan.
Something else was afoot on Tuesday, and that dealt with a peculiarity of the budget-making process.
Mayors generally present a proposed budget to the public in early or mid-May, then hope Fresnans chew on it for the rest of the month. That’s supposed to lead to a couple of weeks of June hearings with council members and citizens both prepared to do their democratic duty.
It seldom unfolds that way. The city’s budget for most people is simply too much to effectively analyze before the hearings. The result all too often is a budget process full of bureaucrats talking in what passes for an echo chamber.
City officials have tried to help the public. For example, the council some years ago held a series preliminary meetings at sites around the city, sort of a budget hearing before the budget hearing. That idea quickly went the way of New Coke.
Tuesday’s news conference suggests Swearengin has her own solution for this old problem: Unveil the budget, then follow with concise, fact-heavy news conferences on specific budget areas.
Code enforcement/neighborhood revitalization could get the same treatment as public safety in a few weeks, Swearengin said.
The apparent point is that the delivery of effective city services requires a coordinated system, one that runs on the wise management of money and the input of an engaged citizenry.
“We all work together here as a team,” Swearengin said. “When one part suffers, the entire organization suffers.”