Bus service and code enforcement were points of contention Tuesday between Fresno City Council members and city officials at the first day of hearings on the 2017 budget.
Budget director Jane Sumpter detailed the 2017 budget for transportation, which is $160.4 million, about $8 million less than last year due largely to a drop in Measure C monies and declining passenger fares. The budget includes 492.25 full-time equivalent positions, or 508 total positions. More than $17 million is dedicated to vehicle replacement, including street sweepers, garbage trucks, utility trucks and cargo vans.
Councilman Oliver Baines questioned Brian Marshall, director of transportation, about the long wait times for the Handy Ride service, which the city contracts out to a private company to provide transportation to those with disabilities and who are unable to use regular FAX service.
“We’re working with them to make sure that they get back up to where they need to be,” Marshall said. “They know from us the service level is not acceptable.”
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“And just for the record, they get penalized when they are not at our standard,” Marshall said of the contractor.
Major changes for the transportation department involve expanding service on FAX bus routes, which Sumpter believes will help earn new revenue. Bus service changes include increasing the frequency to every 15 minutes along Shaw, Blackstone, Cedar and Ventura avenues, bringing service up to each half-hour for all weekend routes and running buses until 11:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
The budget calls for 62 new positions, including 37 bus drivers, to support the expanded service and acquire some staff in preparation of launching the Bus Rapid Transit service in July 2017.
Bus Rapid Transit will replace portions of existing routes and cover a 15.7-mile corridor of Blackstone and Kings Canyon, linking downtown Fresno with north Fresno and the area near Sunnyside High School.
Esmeralda Soria, councilwoman for District 1, asked that the proposed budget support bus service to Inspiration Park, located west of Highway 99 near Gettysburg and Polk avenues.
“Over the last six months – more than six months – we’ve been in conversations about access to the universally accessible park,” Soria said. “Right now, it doesn’t have access to public transit, and where it’s located, it’s challenging to get there, especially for individuals on wheelchairs.”
Marshall said the department has been tracking demand, and that from the park’s opening in November 2015 until May, only three Handy Ride customers traveled to the park.
“Are you now going to say that there’s no need for a deviated ride because Handy Ride has only been utilized three times?” Soria asked. “I think it’s a similar argument we’ve had when we’ve talked about bike lanes – they’d say, ‘There’s no bike users on certain streets.’ Well, it is my belief that sometimes you don’t have users because the access isn’t there.”
Sumpter gave an overview of general fund revenue in fiscal year 2017, which totals $309 million, a 7.5 percent increase over the previous year. Property and sales taxes, and charges for services, are the top revenues for the general fund, making up 78 percent.
Focus on code enforcement
Also on Tuesday’s agenda was the development and resource management department, which has a proposed budget of $51.9 million for 2017, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous year. Included in the department’s budget are two new neighborhood revitalization teams with six new code enforcement positions, making a total of 48 people who will be out in neighborhoods and writing citations, said department director Jennifer Clark.
“What I’m concerned about – and I’m seeing it more and more – is deterioration in our older neighborhoods,” said Councilman Sal Quintero. “Now we’re seeing all the work that we did some years ago – it’s kind of fallen by the wayside, because we’re seeing more and more people park on their front lawns. We’re seeing trash in the front yards.”
He said a request for code enforcement takes a while to get checked. “What I’ve seen in some of the past budgets is, ‘OK, we’re going to hire some new people, we’re going to do this strike team,’ but they just concentrate on one area. How is this going to change?”
Clark said that in addition to efforts in the neighborhoods of Lowell, Yokomi, Kirk, El Dorado and Jefferson, the city plans to conduct proactive code enforcement in another 10 neighborhoods over the next year.
“But when you move on to the next neighborhood, the other neighborhood is going to go ahead and probably deteriorate again,” Quintero said. “When you concentrate on one neighborhood and you’re ignoring three or four others – that doesn’t make sense to me. We’ve tried it and it seems like we’re doing more of the same.”
Fresno budget hearings
Wednesday: Airports, finance, public utilities, mayor and city manager’s office, City Council offices
Tuesday, June 14th: Parks, after school, recreation and community services, police, fire
Wednesday, June 15th: Convention center, general city purpose, public works
Tuesday, June 21st: Council vote on motions made during budget hearings
Thursdays June 9th and 16th will be used as overflow days, if needed
Hearings start at 9:30 a.m. and are held in council chambers at City Hall.