Budget hearings start Tuesday in Fresno, but the city council will have limited information on how much revenue is available.
Mayor Lee Brand has not submitted a budget, saying there is too much uncertainty because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He asked the council to pass a continuing resolution instead, which would keep the budget status quo for another quarter.
Listen to this article:
Last year’s budget of $1.18 billion is expected to take a hit. In documents presented to the council, City Hall staff estimated a $7 million loss for Fiscal Year 2020 and $32 million for FY 2021.
City council president Miguel Arias says the hearings will happen as they normally do every year, starting with an overview from the mayor’s office.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, all meetings will be conducted through Zoom and accessible online. Arias will take public comments after every department’s presentation.
Hearings Start Tuesday
Arias expects to hear from Brand’s office about how the city plans to save money, based on two alternatives regarding the $92.8 million the city received in CARES Act funding from the federal government. The city has already committed $14 million.
“We have the ability to use some of the COVID money for revenue replacement. The other alternative is, there is no revenue replacement from the federal government.” — city council president Miguel Arias
“We have the ability to use some of the COVID money for revenue replacement. The other alternative is, there is no revenue replacement from the federal government,” Arias said.
Brand’s office released a PowerPoint preview of its budget. It is filled with unknowns.
“The city will not have final sales tax numbers for the first quarter until the end of July/August,” the document says.
Other revenues such as Measure C transportation funding and help from the state and federal governments are also question marks.
Councilman Nelson Esparza is looking forward to having the administration run through whatever numbers they have.
“Even though it will be tough to pass an accurate budget in June, I think there’s value in the transparency of continuing to have these budget presentations,” Esparza said
With the 2021 budget in flux, Brand wants to roll over last year’s amended budget until the financial picture clears.
“This is a temporary measure. When better numbers are known, the administration will return to council with a budget revision, sometime in the fall, which will address the current status and any steps which would be taken to handle the situation,” administration documents state.
Councilman Mike Karbassi — participating in his first budget process — agrees with Brand’s budget strategy.
“I want to make it very clear that I’m fully in support of the continuing resolution,” Karbassi said. “It has affected all industries and all businesses in our state. We have no idea (of city finances). We have a projection of what it is going to be. We just don’t know yet.
Esparza is unsure.
“That’s kind of depends really on what transpires here at the budget hearings,” Esparza said.
Preliminary Cuts and Savings
In its PowerPoint, the administration estimates an increase in parking revenue, thanks in part to new smart meters and grants. The city plans to defer a security fence, saving $250,000.
Using SB 1 — the 2017 bill that raised the gas tax to pay for road projects — to pay for public works projects will save $2 million.
The city also plans to cut travel and training, and impose hiring restrictions (except for police cadets) and wage freezes.
Other measures include delaying or canceling capital projects using general fund revenue, and tapping the emergency reserve.
While each department is scheduled to make a presentation, an email from the city clerk’s office indicated there would be just one presentation from the administration.
“I’m just going to be listening to everything that is said. I’m going to be looking for all the political speeches by my colleagues who are going to posture.” — councilman Mike Karbassi
According to presentation documents already released, the city attorney’s office operated with a $17 million budget last year. That including absorbing code enforcement.
The office offered solutions to save $1.2 million. These included leaving nine positions unfilled, reducing training and travel, and delaying equipment purchases.
Both the city attorney and city clerk offices said they fulfilled more public records act requests. A law that went into effect in the last year opened more police records for public review.
“I’m just going to be listening to everything that is said. I’m going to be looking for all the political speeches by my colleagues who are going to posture. Because if we were being really responsible, we would understand that we have no idea what the economic hit is going to be,” Karbassi said.
The fire department’s presentation, to be heard Tuesday, was not publicly available before the posting of this story.
City’s Budget Presentation
Fresno Budget Tentative Hearing Schedule
Tuesday, June 9, 9 a.m.
— Mayor’s budget presentation
— General fund overview from budget department
— Attorney’s office
— Clerk’s Office
— Finance department
— Information services.
— Fire department
Thursday, June 11, 1 p.m.
— Planning and development
— Public utilities
— Personnel services
Monday, June 15, 9 a.m.
— Police department
— Transportation (FAX)
Tuesday, June 16, 9 a.m.
— Public works.
— Parks and recreation
— Convention center
— Mayor and city manager’s office
— City council offices
Monday, June 22, 9 a.m.
— Budget motions
Thursday, June 25, 9 a.m.
— Housing successor to the redevelopment agency
— Final budget vote
Tuesday, June 30, 9 a.m.
— Extra date to vote on budget — if needed.