Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin already has proposed $293.2 million in general fund spending in the city’s 2016-17 budget. But that’s not quite enough to do all the things that the Fresno City Council wants to accomplish in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
City Council members voted Tuesday to spend an extra $2.1 million from the general fund – the pot of money from which most of the city’s discretionary bills are paid.
About half of that was proposed by District 2 Councilman Steve Brandau to restore funds for neighborhood street repairs. Brandau wants $1,050,000 to be divided among the seven council members’ districts to respond to residents’ complaints about potholes and other road problems.
An additional $450,000 was pitched by Councilman Oliver Baines to help Fresno catch up on capital repairs and maintenance projects that have been repeatedly deferred because of tight budgets in recent years of economic recession. City Manager Bruce Rudd compiled a list of more than $10 million in maintenance needs, including about $1.3 million in what he described as “Tier 1” or high-priority projects.
Overall, this is a great budget, but we do have a $2 million gap.
Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd
Baines’ motion also represented a package of other tidbits sought by City Council members after two weeks of hearings into the budgets of each department. Those include:
▪ $200,000 for a BMX park.
▪ $70,000 for recreation programs at the Pinedale Community Center in northwest Fresno.
▪ $55,000 to support programs and maintenance at Melody Park in east-central Fresno.
▪ $50,000 to support the Mary Ella Brown Community Center in southwest Fresno.
▪ $48,000 for the Fresno Historical Society to support exhibits at Fresno City Hall, research for city projects, and presentations to citizens’ academy programs.
▪ $25,000 to pay for a Fresno police report-writing substation in the Tower District in central Fresno.
▪ $25,000 to pay for a Fresno police report-writing substation at Stone Soup in northeast Fresno.
▪ $25,000 for the Big Fresno Fair Historical Museum.
The tricky part now: how to pay for the extras.
“We’re about $2 million out of balance,” Rudd told the council after members approved the laundry list of motions. “Overall, this is a great budget, but we do have a $2 million gap.”
Rudd was unsure how to make that up, but he said he and his staff “will take a shot” at scouring the budget for money for the added projects. Rudd expects to provide a report to the City Council on Thursday, when the budget is likely to be formally approved.
Brandau’s motion was approved on a unanimous 7-0 vote. The council approved Baines’ $948,000 motion on a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Clint Olivier abstaining.
I’m not yet convinced that we’re $2 million out of budget. I think that we will have the ability to find it.
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines
“It really comes down to what I hear most from the citizens,” Brandau said of his neighborhood streets proposal, which has been funded in previous years but was not included in Swearengin’s budget proposal.
“This is the stuff that the citizens want us to focus on: to get our streets, our sidewalks, our potholes back under control. Those are the day-to-day things our citizens encounter. So for me, it’s really important in the budget cycle to put an emphasis on that.”
Baines said the package of extras in his motion “are obviously a major priority” for a majority of the council members, and he said he believes the money will materialize.
“I do think there’s an ability to get there,” he said. “I’m not yet convinced that we’re $2 million out of budget. I think that we will have the ability to find it.
“We’re talking about a $300 million general fund and a $1.1 billion budget overall,” Baines added. “I think we’re probably going to be able to find a couple million dollars in there. We may need to get creative … but I think there’s a willingness on the part of the administration to help us get there.”
Brandau said that he is optimistic but realistic. He said in his discussions with Rudd and Swearengin, the city’s ability to find the extra money will depend largely on what is left over after the current budget year ends on June 30, “and we should know that in October.”
“Either we’re going to find the money, or the odds are that we’ll only fund a certain portion of my neighborhood streets project until we see if there’s a larger carryover,” Brandau said. “Between all of the budget motions, it’s about $2 million that we’re asking for. And (Rudd’s staff) can only locate about $1 million of it.”
If that’s all that’s there, Brandau said the city’s working game plan is to fund about half of the streets program and a portion of the deferred maintenance. “But we’ll vote on it now, and once October comes and if taxes have gone up and more income is coming in, those will be the first things automatically in line to be funded.”