At its first budget hearing for the next fiscal year, the Fresno City Council stepped into the “Twilight Zone” as one member put it Tuesday.
Budgeting looked much different amid the pandemic and following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
The council started debating a budget without a formal budget presented, for starters. They met via Zoom, which caused complications at the start, thanks to “Zoom bombers.”
“This has really been the year for the Twilight Zone and now here we are in the June budget month of the Twilight Zone with this (continuing resolution) proposal,” councilman Nelson Esparza said.
Esparza referenced Mayor Lee Brand’s continuing resolution request — to continue the current budget allocations to at least the first quarter of the next fiscal year.
As the council and city staff talked finances, the public had something else in mind.
Nearly all of the dozen or so public comments asked to defund police in some form or fashion.
“I especially hope that we’re not considering as a city increasing the amount of finance going to our police department when we are considered to be one of the poorest, if not the poorest city, in the entire country.” — D’Aungillique Jackson, president, Fresno State NAACP
The council will formally discuss the police budget Monday. But residents voiced their opinions on policing on Tuesday anyway.
Alex O’Casey-Ramos, a Fresno activist who recently worked on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, compared the continual funding of police to “upholding white supremacy.”
D’Aungilique Jackson, president of the Fresno State chapter of the NAACP, also wants funding moved elsewhere.
“I especially hope that we’re not considering as a city increasing the amount of finance going to our police department when we are considered to be one of the poorest, if not the poorest, city in the entire country,” Jackson said.
At Thursday’s regular council meeting, Fresno State’s NAACP will present a workshop “building community trust and accountability while protecting social justice.”
Last year, the police department’s overall budget was $201 million, with $174 million coming from the general fund. That represented 49.5% of the general fund.
In addition to the live comments, dozens posted messages in the city’s eComment system opposing police funding.
In response, councilmembers asked city staff to present detailed police budget information when that department is specifically discussed Monday.
Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria proposed a motion that Fresno police would not participate in the homeless task force unless they are needed as backup.
Council president Miguel Arias proposed spending $100,000 from the city attorney’s budget to explore community policing.
Brand presented his request for a continuing resolution, then handed the presentation over to assistant city manager Jane Sumpter, who is the mayor’s budget expert.
This year’s budget is $1.189 billion.
Because of the unknowns in tax revenue, Brand wants to continue with the current budget plan until at least the fall.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on our economy and our budget, an almost unprecedented impact. It’ll take time to evaluate how long the economy needs to recover,” Brand explained via Zoom.
Brand hopes that the extra 90 days will determine how much tax revenue, as well as federal assistance, the city receives.
He promised a detailed spending plan by Thursday.
Councilman Luis Chavez wanted to set realistic expectations of what services the city can provide.
“The message that sends is status quo. And we know that that’s not the case. We’ve had over 1,300 businesses … that have either been shut down or operating at 25, 30 percent,” Chavez said.
Plan to Cut Millions, Save Jobs
Sumpter discussed $18 million in potential savings to help alleviate the estimated $32 million hit in FY 2021. They include delaying capital projects ($8 million) and various methods of reducing personnel costs ($10 million).
The council expressed discomfort with any measures that would cause layoffs, salary givebacks, or a hiring freeze.
“If we end up having to furlough staff, especially sworn staff, I’m going to make a motion that the council will furlough themselves and our staffs the same way because we have a responsibility to feel the pain that we may be inflicting,” councilman Mike Karbassi said.
Soria wanted to reevaluate using consultants.
“There are some (consultants) that will be absolutely necessary. There may be others that we can do without. I’d like to do that before we consider furloughs or reducing people’s salaries,” Soria said.
The council also discussed ways to make programs and departments eligible for federal funding.
A final vote on the budget and whether to accept Brand’s continuing resolution is expected by June 25.
Presentations Continue Thursday
The council heard presentations from the departments under its control, the city attorney and the city clerk.
Three other departments — finance, information services, and fire — were supposed to present their budgets as well, but didn’t. Wanting a formal presentation from each department, the council unanimously voted to push those departments to Thursday.
“I think based on the magnitude of the challenge that we have ahead of us and the fact that we’re doing this virtually versus in person, the public and the council need to understand what the context of the budget is prior to us giving (city manager Wilma Quan) direction,” Arias said.
In addition to the department presentations carried over from today, the council will also hear from the planning, public utility, and personnel departments on Thursday.
“Zoom bombers” appeared at the meetings’ start. Many participants unmuted their microphones to play music and hurl insults using inappropriate language.
One bomber was able to shake his tush, twerking, before being cut off.
Arias warned participants not to unmute or they would be kicked out of the meeting. The problems died down after that.
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) June 9, 2020