For four days last week, the Fresno City Council met in marathon sessions — more than 26 hours total — to shape the $1.8 billion budget.
They heard from every department, each presenting how money will be spent. Along the way, the councilmembers proposed 96 motions on new way to spend city funds.
The new motions added at least $57 million in expenditures. The mayor’s staff will look to find ways to integrate the new spending. The city council is scheduled to vote on the motions Wednesday. Votes on the overall budget are scheduled for June 22, with an alternate voting date of June 29.
Here are selected highlights:
Police makes up 49% ($245 million) of general fund spending; fire is 17% ($87 million). The city council was generally supportive of Chief Paco Balderrama’s spending plan.
It is tough to say who was the department’s biggest cheerleader. Garry Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi have always been pro-police.
“The left side supports you, too,” Annalisa Perea said with a smile.
Major crime is down, Balderrama told the city council. Compared to last year, homicides are down 54%; shootings are down 16%; and robberies are down 11%. Property crime is down for both business and residential burglaries. Vehicle thefts are down 32%.
The department hired 119 new officers in the past fiscal year, while only losing two per month. The budget has funds to hire 13 new officers, which would bring the total to 900.
The department has three new park rangers hired, with six more coming.
Sales tax is estimated at $153 million for FY 2024, a 1.9% increase over the prior year. But budget director Henry Fierro says it is not growing as fast as before. Inflationary impacts and increased borrowing costs are reasons.
Fuel costs for the city are up $1.2 million.
The city does not have an exact amount it may raise garbage rates. City Manager Georgeanne White said the public utilities department needs $12 million to remain out of the red.
Councilman Miguel Arias pressed the administration for a number, but no figure was given.
If rates aren’t increased, there could be a hiring and equipment purchase freeze.
Rates, if approved and not rejected by residents through the Prop 218 process, could be in effect Jan. 1, 2024.
My colleague Edward Smith took an in-depth look.
Transportation director Greg Barfield said the 8 million riders on Fresno buses is almost at pre-pandemic levels. His goal is 10 million riders.
Councilman Miguel Arias inquired about a bus line between Community Medical Regional Center in downtown Fresno, and Clovis Community Hospital. He proposed $500,000 for a route. Barfield said such a route would need to undergo legal review.
Wireless internet service on buses could be ready in 45 days.
Arias floated the idea of moving the privately-owned Renzi artwork — vandalized at a building destroyed by fire at Shields Avenue near Highway 41 — to the airport. Airport director Henry Thompson said it is possible. The convention center is another option.
“A Day in the Park” by famed Fresno artist Clement Renzi survived a January fire, but the building was destroyed. The city removed the tiles last week. It is unclear if the city plans to take possession of the art.
Arias also proposed spending $1 million to purchase the Helm Home as an LGBT youth shelter. The property — at 1749 L Street — is currently owned by the Fresno Housing Authority.
The councilman also suggested that current properties the city owns, such as the Gottschalks Building on Fulton Street, should be renovated and turned into city offices.
Housing supply was a topic. City Manager White said 6,900 affordable rate units — defined as rent/mortgage and utilities costing no more than 30% of one’s earnings — and 4,100 market rate units in three years will cover 26% of demand.
More two- and three-bedroom apartments are needed, White said.
The public works presentation is where the cordial council showed division. Councilman Garry Bredefeld said some districts get much more funding for street repairs and other public works projects.
Mike Karbassi also complained.
White responded to complaints made by Luis Chavez at a news conference last week about not enough repair money being spent in south Fresno.
With solar projects coming online, the city could save $143 million over 20 years.
The city exceeded its goal of planting 1,000 new trees with 1,800.
The department received 6,000 pothole calls and 30,700 graffiti calls for service.
The city projects cannabis revenue at $5.4 million. The FY 2023 estimate is $1.2 million, way down from what was promised ($5 million) during the 2023 budget process.
Only two cannabis retailers are open. The city can issue up to 21 licenses — 19 have been granted thus far. Cannabis director Jennifer Ruiz anticipates nine stores opening in FY 2024. She anticipates more store openings creating more business rather than cannibalizing each other.
White defended the numbers, saying it is a new program and “it is a work in progress.”
In February, the city manager updated timelines for license holders. This includes 120 days to refurbish an existing building or 240 days for a new construction. The clock starts once a building permit is issued. Before a building permit, a license holder needs to complete a Conditional Use Permit.
The department said it needs $2.6 million to maintain the eviction protection program, and $100,000 for immigration defense.