UPDATE: 5:32 p.m., Thursday, April 5
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand put his shoulder squarely behind a proposed sales-tax increase for public safety today in a statement emailed to GV Wire.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand
“While the City of Fresno has many challenges, including parks and green space, my job as your Mayor is to prioritize our limited funds and funding capacity,” Brand said. “That is why I am working on a dedicated police and fire tax to go on the November ballot to make our community safer.
“People will then be able to vote their priorities. After months of discussions, research and analysis, my team and I have determined that our greatest need is for a police and fire public safety tax to make every neighborhood in Fresno safe.”
Thus, Fresno voters will likely face two big questions come November.
Will you support the sales-tax hike for public safety? How about a sales-tax hike for parks?
A grassroots group announced a plan Wednesday (April 4) to benefit parks.
Then, today, Fresno Police Officers Association President Damon Kurtz said that a public safety tax proposal will be on the ballot as well.
“We have support to bring it forward,” Kurtz said without offering specifics.
“The city has many challenges, including parks and green space. Which do we prioritize first? Public safety has to be number one. We are underfunded.”
Later Thursday, Brand followed with his support for the public-safety tax.
Sales-tax increases require approval by two-thirds of voters.
Parks Tax Would Raise $37.5 Million Annually
Fresno for Parks submitted a plan to the city clerk that seeks to increase the sales tax 3/8 of a cent, raising it from 7.975% to 8.35%. Promoters say it would raise an estimated $37.5 million a year for parks or $39 a household.
Parks are rising to the top of political considerations this year. Fresno voters, along with voters statewide, will decide the fate of Prop 68, which is on the June primary ballot. The proposition authorizes a $4 billion bond for parks and other natural resources.
The idea of multiple taxes doesn’t concern Parks for Fresno member Larry Powell, a former Fresno County Schools Superintendent.
“It requires you to make your case in a different way,” Powell said. “This is an amenity that becomes a necessity. It will fundamentally change Fresno for the next 30 years.”
Need for Parks Tax
The next step for the parks advocates is collecting enough signatures to place it in front of voters in the Nov. 6 election. Approximately 23,000 are needed. The group is aiming for 27,000.
The group is funded by the Central Valley Community Foundation led by former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
A 2017 survey conducted by the Trust of Public Land ranked Fresno 90th out of 100 in the country for park access.
Last year, the Fresno City Council updated its Parks Master Plan. The report said the city needs to increase spending by $17 million a year to meet public demand.
“It is time for us to step up in Fresno and do something on a spectacular level to fundamentally change Fresno. We need parks in a variety of areas, especially areas of poverty,” Powell said.
Polling conducted by parks advocates indicated more than 70% support for either a half-cent or quarter-cent tax.
The parks tax increase would last for 30 years, according to the language of the ordinance.
The measure would include a nine-member oversight board, appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.
If it passes, the ordinance will create a specific parks account that may only be used:
“For the purposes specified herein including, but not limited to, clean and safe parks; new parks and recreation facilities; youth and senior recreation and afterschool facilities and job training; improved walking and biking trails; the San Joaquin River Parkway; beautification of streets; and expanded access to arts and culture.”
The ordinance lists 10 types of projects that money can be spent on, including reducing homelessness in parks, updating bathrooms and training people for jobs.
The spending breakdown specifies 46% improvements and maintenance, 21.5% for new parks, senior and youth facilities; 12% to expand access to arts and culture; 11.25% for trails, including the San Joaquin River Parkway; 8.5% for various senior, after-school and job-training programs; there is nothing specific for the remaining 0.75%.
At least half of the spending in some categories will go to the “highest need neighborhoods,” defined as:
“Those areas that are located within census tracts that rank within the top 25% of Fresno census tracts as identified in the State’s CalEnviroScreen 3.0; and whose nearest park is identified as being in poor
condition, according to the Plan, or is located within a priority zone for new parks, as defined by the Plan.”
GV Wire’s Bill McEwen contributed to this story.
GV Wire’s Jahz Tello produced the video.