Fresno annual budget passes, but mayor hints he will drop veto hammer

The Fresno City Council voted 5-1 Thursday to pass a nearly $1.2 billion budget, following a discussion that included some debate over whether the city is adequately addressing the needs of police and how to reach a balanced budget.

Although the council approved the 2019-20 budget, that doesn’t mean it’s final. Mayor Lee Brand still has 10 days to veto items to ensure it’s balanced.

Some of the budget changes made by the City Council fund items such as: moving the code enforcement department from the mayor’s administration to the City Attorney’s Office under the council’s authority; relocating the Darling meat rendering plant; building a senior center; and creating a housing trust.

Police budget debated

During Thursday’s discussion Councilmember Garry Bredefeld — the lone “no” vote on the budget — expressed disappointment that no additional police officers or dispatchers would be hired.

But council members Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria pointed to police officer raises and vacancy rates, saying hiring additional officers isn’t the only way to support the department.

“We as a council ought to be ashamed of ourselves that we’re not hiring one sworn officer,” Bredefeld said. “…To do this other dance over here that we’re really addressing public safety needs is baloney. It’s a bunch of crap.”

Brand weighing veto power

In a letter to the council on Wednesday, Brand said the council’s proposals cost $1.16 million more than what the city can afford.

Voters in November 2018 approved a charter amendment mandating the city’s budget be balanced. Brand said he’d use line item vetoes to balance it.

“My entire career has been focused on establishing and maintaining fiscal responsibility when spending taxpayer money,” he said in a statement. “…I have made it abundantly clear to the council and the people of Fresno that my approach has always been to deal with budget issues in a fair, reasonable, and consistent manner, and I will continue to work diligently and collaboratively to improve the quality of life for everyone who calls Fresno home.”

Brand said he and the council agree on 99.7 percent of the budget. That’s a sign of healthy debate and democracy, he said.

The question about whether the budget is balanced when including the council’s proposals was debated Thursday. A city budget analyst noted the budget projections for property tax revenue were conservative based on historical numbers. Some councilmembers took that to mean their proposals were not too expensive like the mayor said.

“The ball is in the mayor’s court. At this point, I think we’ve done our due diligence,” Arias said.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.