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Fresno City Council passes budget after clashes on public safety, senior center funds

The Fresno City Council will be down to six members during June budget hearings if Steve Brandau holds his lead and wins the race for Fresno County Supervisor.
The Fresno City Council will be down to six members during June budget hearings if Steve Brandau holds his lead and wins the race for Fresno County Supervisor. Fresno Bee file

After a bitter fight about how to fund additional police and fire staffing as well as a senior activity center, the Fresno City Council on Thursday approved a $1.115 billion budget for 2019.

District 2 Councilman Steve Brandau and District 6 Councilman Garry Bredefeld voted no on the budget. Brandau said the city manager's office and mayor's administration engaged in scare tactics when council members asked to explore funding options. Bredefeld said more money should've been marked for public safety to tackle low staffing in the fire department and long 911 call wait times due to an understaffed dispatch center in the police department.

But District 7 Councilman Clint Olivier reminded his colleagues that the budget is the healthiest it's been in years. When he began on the council in 2010 there was no money in reserves and the city faced bankruptcy, he said.

Olivier scored a win during Thursday's final budget hearing by gaining council support to use $500,000 of potential marijuana tax money to fund operations for an interim senior activity center.

Mayor Lee Brand thanked the council for its support, saying the public will benefit from a budget that addresses the city's most critical needs.

"Moving forward, we must continue to utilize our limited resources to their fullest extent to provide the best possible service to our residents, and keep our focus on building our economy and developing new revenue streams to properly fund our priorities and make Fresno a better and safer place to live," he said in a statement.

The council approved the budget after the mayor announced Thursday morning he abandoned his tax initiative plan for public safety and parks. He cited the lack of council support. Earlier in the week, Councilmembers Oliver Baines, Brandau, Bredefeld and Esmeralda Soria said they wouldn't support the plan.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand killed the plan to add a public safety and parks sales tax measure on the November ballot.

The council also voted in favor of using an accounting methodology to claim early $9.9 million in accrued tax revenue and put it in reserves. The money originally was accounted for in the city's five-year budget plan, but the council decided to take the unusual step of recognizing a 13th month of tax revenue and shifting the schedule for future fiscal years.

That tactic boosted the city's reserve fund to 10 percent of the budget, an industry standard that Brand aimed to achieve. The move also may result in creditors viewing the council's fiscal practices in a positive light and ultimately boosting the city's credit rating.

The mayor's proposed budget set aside $3.4 million for the reserves. The council on Thursday voted to divvy up that money in the following way: $1 million will go toward a community center that also will serve senior citizens in District 4, represented by Councilman Paul Caprioglio; $1 million will go toward citywide park infrastructure; $1 million will go toward affordable housing measures, such as first-time home buyer down-payment assistance and affordable housing developments; $300,000 will go toward the council's infrastructure funds for projects under $100,00; and $100,000 will go to the city attorney's office for law clerks and code enforcement.

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Residents attended the Fresno City Council meeting on Thursday, June 28 where the council debated how to fund a senior acitivty center during its final budget hearing where it approved a $1.115 billion budget. Brianna Calix bcalix@frensobee.com

The council spent hours bickering Thursday over how to address staffing needs in the fire department and for police dispatchers.

Bredefeld at one point motioned to split the $3.4 million previously dubbed for reserves between a senior center, the police department and fire department. But his colleagues didn't support him.

District 5 Councilman Luis Chavez said if the council members supported the mayor's tax initiative, they wouldn’t need to discuss public safety staffing. Police Chief Jerry Dyer, Fire Chief Kerri Donis and union representatives for both departments expressed their disappointment Thursday for the lack of support for the mayor's plan.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand killed the plan to add a public safety and parks sales tax measure on the November ballot.

Two other moves went as expected, with the council adding officer bike units in the Tower District and El Dorado Park neighborhood and adding $150,000 to each district discretionary fund, bringing the council's total discretionary funds up to $1.4 million.

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix
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