The Fresno City Council passed the $1.4 billion budget by a 5-2 vote.
Council members debated on how well city funding improves police. Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi, who both voted no on the budget, felt more could have been done.
“Every one of us campaign on (public safety). Every one of us talk about it. And what happens is all the little pet projects, immigrant funds and climate change and all the stuff we shouldn’t be spending city taxpayer dollars on is being wasted here,” Bredefeld said.
Other councilmembers disagreed.
“The department is receiving more money than what was proposed and requested in the mayor’s budget, and as much as I enjoy my role of asking tough questions, understand the return on investment, they are the experts in public policing, and we have taken their lead by funding above and beyond their proposed budget request,” Councilmember Miguel Arias responded.
Chief Balderrama Calls it a Win
“Every one of us campaign on (public safety). Every one of us talk about it. And what happens is all the little pet projects, immigrant funds and climate change and all the stuff we shouldn’t be spending city taxpayer dollars on is being wasted here.” — Councilman Garry Bredefeld
The budget includes money to hire 12 more police officers, up to 850. However, enough vacancies and long-term absences exist where the city has had difficulty deploying even 700 active officers.
“Progressively, I want to keep building this police department and I’ve been very vocal about it, that more police officers will help citywide. It’s going to help us respond to calls quicker,” Balderrama said after the vote.
His goal is eventually to get to 950 officers.
“That is definitely a win. Another big win is the fact that I got what I asked for as far as new equipment, training, all the things that we need to operate the police department,” Balderrama said.
In the future, Balderrama hopes to replace the department’s aging helicopters.
The $204 million budget is slightly down from the prior year ($209 million). The budget includes $6.8 million from federal pandemic stimulus funds.
At least 15 community service officers — civilians that can be assigned to take reports after a crime like a home break-in has occurred — will be hired.
“We want to be able to give the city better customer service,” Balderrama said.
More CSOs can increase service time in responding to cases, and free up sworn officers to respond to more urgent matters.
Budget Includes Some Recruiting Incentives
“The workload our officers take on is above and beyond what anybody else in this Valley does. But the pay does not reflect that.” —Stephen Latham, FPOA
The next step for Balderrama is recruiting to fill the ranks of the department. His staff is reaching out to military veterans and engaging in a promotional campaign.
But, a representative of the police union questions whether the city is doing as much as it can to help recruiting.
“The workload our officers take on is above and beyond what anybody else in this Valley does. But the pay does not reflect that,” Stephen Lathan, second vice president of the Fresno Police Officers Association said.
“When you’re trying to recruit people to come here to fill those vacant positions, that is something that obviously any intelligent applicant that’s out there looking for that job is going to look that. And if they can make more money somewhere else in a lower stress environment, why wouldn’t they consider that other city?”
During budget discussions on Tuesday, the council rejected increasing an incentive bonus for existing law enforcement officers from other agencies who join the Fresno Police Department. By a 4-2 vote, the council rejected a proposal to raise the incentive from $10,000 to $20,000.
“The rejection by council to try to make us competitive with other agencies up and down the state just sends a clear message of what their priorities really are. And that could have helped. It could have helped attract some more people,” Latham said.
Latham said that newly hired Clovis police officers earn $1,200 a month more than their Fresno counterparts.
The council did approve another type of incentive — a $20,000 bonus for officers to live in the city, south of Shaw Avenue. That passed by a 6-0 vote.
“If they want to offer an incentive for officers to live south of Shaw, that’s fine. We have plenty of officers who live south of Shaw within the city of Fresno. But I don’t think that moves the bar,” Latham said.
“We want to pay people what they’re worth in order to attract the best and the brightest,” Balderrama said.
Council: Money Discussed at Negotiating Table
Mayor Jerry Dyer, at a news conference, defended the council for opting not to increase salaries or approve certain hiring incentives during the budget process.
“We are in contract negotiations right now with a number of our labor organizations. That is the appropriate venue for those discussions to occur, whether that is a lateral hiring incentives, retention plans and bonuses, salary increases. And so the last place that should be done, quite frankly, is here on the dais,” Dyer said.
Arias said it was “irresponsible” to negotiate through sound bites.
“I have full confidence that the police chief and the mayor know what they’re doing when it comes to recruitment of police officers. And if and when they make a request for adjustments to achieve their goal of 150 officers, the council will consider it,” Arias said.
Council President Luis Chavez said the city council always supported police.
“Public safety was a big priority for this council, and we just want to make sure that that is understood by the community,” Chavez said.
Legal Defense Funds Supported
The budget also includes $200,000 for a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation. Priority would be given to domestic violence victims, women, children and families at risk of being separated.
Bredefeld voiced his opposition.
“Your tax dollars are now being used to defend people here illegally,” Bredefeld said.
Also, the city council shifted $750,000 from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to an eviction protection program. The city council previously passed a framework for providing a legal defense for those facing eviction and now have funding. Details of how the program will work and who will be eligible still need to be decided.