In the final budget of her eight years as Fresno’s mayor, Ashley Swearengin is proposing a plan of $1.1 billion that includes beefed-up spending on basic services such as the police and fire departments, parks maintenance, code enforcement and street paving.
Swearengin unveiled her recommended budget Tuesday – on her birthday – at Fresno City Hall.
The budget covers the 2016-17 fiscal year that will begin July 1. But the budget will be subject to approval and changes by the Fresno City Council during budget hearings over the next month before it takes effect.
Spending from the city’s general fund, the pot of money from which much of Fresno’s day-to-day services are supported, is proposed to be $293.2 million – up about 6.9 percent from the 2015-16 budget. Departments supported by the general fund include police and fire, parks, development/planning and administrative services, such as the mayor’s and City Council offices, city clerk, city attorney, finance and human resources.
The Fresno Police Department is in line for a 3.3 percent increase – enough money to add 26 sworn police officers to bring the total to 801, the highest since 2010-11. There also is a proposed 8.9 percent increase for the Fresno Fire Department to add 12 firefighter positions and continue to replace aging fire engines and trucks.
It marks a continuing recovery in the city’s financial condition since an economic recession wreaked havoc on Fresno’s property taxes and sales taxes, two key sources of general fund revenue for the budget.
“We have made it through those treacherous days,” Swearengin said Tuesday. “We have learned from past mistakes and we have emerged … from the Great Recession with a commitment to long-term financial health and to rebuilding our core services in a sustainable fashion.”
This budget is a healthy budget for public safety. It is not where we need to be at some point in time in the future, but it is what we are able to get to at this point in time.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer
Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that at the city’s peak staffing in 2009-10, his department had 834 sworn police officers. That slid to fewer than 700 in 2014.
“This budget is a healthy budget for public safety,” Dyer said. “It is not where we need to be at some point in time in the future, but it is what we are able to get to at this point in time.” He added that he is confident of filling all 801 authorized positions by January 2017.
Dyer said he also was pleased that the budget includes money to add eight dispatchers to the staff, after previous budget cuts forced the department to lay off some. Dyer said the dispatch center fields about 2,700 calls a day, including about 1,200 emergency 911 calls.
The addition of a dozen firefighters to the Fresno Fire Department staff will boost the minimum staffing on any given day across the city to at least 77 firefighters – an extra four-person engine company above the current minimum daily staffing of 73 firefighters, Fire Chief Kerri Donis said.
As recently as 2011, the Fire Department’s daily staffing was down to 63 firefighters, Donis said. Fresno firefighters responded to 42,000 calls last year.
The budget also includes money for a new fleet maintenance shop for the city’s fire and police vehicles. Fire engines and trucks are now serviced in a 100-year-old downtown building behind Station 3 at Fresno and E streets.
Dating back to when some fire equipment was still horse-drawn, the repair building’s ceilings are so low “that we can’t tilt the cabs up to look at the engines” on fire engines and trucks, Donis said. That forces mechanics to work outside on hot summer days or in cold, rainy weather.
In addition to increases for the Police and Fire Departments, Swearengin touted other significant features of the budget:
▪ An allocation of $5.3 million to catch up on maintenance at parks across Fresno, as part of a $27.3 million budget for the city’s parks/recreation department.
▪ A pot of more than $9 million to cover paving, concrete and street maintenance and pothole repairs, a 36 percent increase over this year.
▪ Proposed improvements and expansion of the FAX transit bus service starting in January, increasing the frequency of bus service to every 15 minutes along Shaw, Blackstone, Cedar and Ventura avenues and boosting frequency to every 30 minutes on weekends on all routes. And instead of services ending at 8 p.m., buses will run until 11:30 p.m.
In addition to an enhanced bus schedule, about $30.2 million out of FAX’s $69 million capital budget will build the city’s Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, system to be completed in 2018. The BRT program will offer faster bus service along the Blackstone Avenue and Kings Canyon Road corridors linking downtown Fresno with the River Park and Sunnyside areas.
You will see some significant changes, not just with the addition of code enforcement (officers), but the manner in which we go after some of these property owners whose practices not only violate health and safety codes but may also be borderline criminal.
City Manager Bruce Rudd
City Manager Bruce Rudd added that the budget also includes funding for six more officers in the city’s code enforcement division, bringing the total to 59. Four new positions also are proposed in the city attorney’s office to handle potential legal action “to bring properties into compliance with state and local building codes.” The need for more code enforcement was highlighted in the recent investigation by The Bee, “Living in Misery,” which focused on substandard housing.
“You will see some significant changes, not just with the addition of code enforcement (officers), but the manner in which we go after some of these property owners whose practices not only violate health and safety codes but may also be borderline criminal,” Rudd said.
Swearengin noted that the proposed budget increases the city’s emergency reserves from about $16 million this year to almost $20 million in 2016-17, “which represents about a 7 percent general fund reserve.”
The mayor said she also will propose that the City Council adopt a resolution requiring Fresno to repay redevelopment funds into the reserve until the city achieves a goal of a 10 percent reserve by 2020.