Political Notebook

Concerned about how your tax dollars are spent? Fresno City Council wants your input

Fresno residents wishing to play an active role in how the city sets budget priorities and goals have a new way to become involved in the process.

The Fresno City Council last week unanimously approved a participatory budgeting resolution, allowing each council member to establish their own constituent participation budget committee.

The committees are group of volunteer residents whose duty is to advise and give feedback about priorities, needs and concerns for the city’s budget.

The initiative was led by District 5 Council Member Luis Chavez and cosponsored by council members Esmeralda Soria and Nelson Esparza, who represent districts 1 and 7 respectively.

Each council member has the option of establishing the committee for their district.

“We’re a growing city. Our needs are so diverse and so across the spectrum, so I think we needed to change the way we do things,” Chavez said. “When we don’t get community buy-in and input in the beginning, that’s when you have a gap from what the community priorities are and what we as elected officials think they should be.”

Chavez said he plans to use the priorities from his committee during the budgeting process, when the council makes proposals and changes to the mayor’s proposed budget.

The mayor and his administration develop the city’s proposed budget, which must be balanced and passed each year by the end of June by a City Council vote. The process typically begins in late December when individual departments begin to analyze their needs and priorities before submitting proposals to the budget office and city manager.

The proposed budget is released in May, and in June the City Council holds hearings over 10 days, where council members provide input and propose changes. That’s when the citizen committees’ priorities will come into play.

Mayor Lee Brand in a statement to The Bee expressed support for community input on the budget.

“With no exceptions, each and every budget represents a delicate balancing act between providing the most efficient services to the people of Fresno and being fiscally responsible,” he said. “There are always substantially more needs than we have the ability to fund. … I look forward to working with the council and hearing the input they receive from the community when we have our budget hearings in June.”

Chavez plans to include groups such as Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, Cultiva La Salud, St. Anthony Mary Claret Church and residents from the Calwa, Lane, Huntington and Sunnyside neighborhoods.

Since this year’s budget hearings are weeks away, Esparza said there may only be time for one meeting for his district committee. But, in future years, he envisions holding committee meetings every four to six weeks.

Lucio Avila, a policy advocate with Leadership Counsel, said participatory budgeting will help make the budgeting process more transparent and allow residents to take ownership of their neighborhoods.

“This will empower folks and bring people and officials closer,” he said.

Esparza said participatory budgeting is nothing new, but “we don’t see enough of it in Fresno.”

“People elect us to represent them,” he said. “This is an opportunity to involve residents a little more directly.”

If you’d like to be a part of the committee, contact the City Council offices at 559-621-8000.

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.