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Fresno Budget Debate: Where and How to Allocate Firefighters?
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 3 weeks ago on
June 5, 2024

During budget hearings, the Fresno City Council questioned allocation of firefighters around the city. (GV Wire File)

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Fresno’s public safety departments presented their budgets to the city council on Wednesday.

While the department will remain at 375 firefighters, more of the salaries will come from the general fund. State and federal grants, paying $21 million for 159 positions, expire later this year.

The fire department presentation revolved around how to allocate firefighters.

Chief Billy Alcorn’s initial proposal was to reduce several stations from four firefighters in a station at a given time to three.

Councilmember Mike Karbassi felt unease about the reduced staffing at Station 2 in his district near the river bluff.

To keep the higher-per-station staffing level, Karbassi made a motion to cut the number of the department’s squad units, which utilize a smaller fire vehicle that focuses on medical calls, from four to two.

Alcorn and City Manager Georgeanne White defended the use of the four squad vehicles saying they absorb a heavy workload from other firefighters and heavy-duty fire vehicles.

While the department will remain at 375 firefighters, more of the salaries will come from the general fund. State and federal grants, paying $21 million for 159 positions, expire later this year. The budget drops some positions, such as three fire captains, but still maintains 375 overall staff. The department averages 103 firefighters on duty per day.

Councilmember Miguel Arias, facetious or not, had a plan to test response times in northeast Fresno versus his district downtown to extinguish open fires.

“I’m going to test it,” Arias said with a smile. He said he would burn a clean-wood fire on a sidewalk in northeast Fresno.

A look at “Fire Squad 3,” a specialty truck unit for medical calls. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Police Present Budget

Police Chief Paco Balderrama presented his department’s report. The city allocates 926 police officer positions — same as last year — with 860 positions filled. At $250 million, the city spends 52% of its general fund on police.

Homicides are down 42%. Shootings are down 18%. Business burglaries are down 44%, the chief told the council.

Councilmembers generally praised Balderrama for the crime decline while also expressing concern about traffic incidents, including DUI and distracted drivers. Balderrama said that his officers have written thousands more tickets than in the past.

Karbassi also proposed a motion to hire a detective to solve petty theft crimes.

Arias, a critic of the department’s Shotspotter program, asked questions about how effective the technology is, and which city department should pay for the $1 million-a-year-program.

“It is very effective,” Balderrama said.

The technology helps identify the sound of gunshots and alerts law enforcement.

Councilmember Frustrated Over Slow Projects

The new Capital Projects department presented on Tuesday.

The department started last year, combining some staff from public utilities and public works. Capital Projects is still looking to hire engineers. Director Randall Morrison said that the city is in fierce competition with Caltrans and PG&E for those important positions.

“It is tough to deliver projects when priorities change. Projects get shifted around. New funding comes in that has tighter deadlines. And so a combination of all of that, with this ever-changing market has made it difficult,” Morrison said.

Morrison acknowledge several projects are backlogged. That frustrated Arias, who said several parks and other projects like Mariposa Plaza are “behind schedule and over-budget.”

“What I’ve seen is a system that has intentionally delayed most of these projects by using the excuse of public comment, public engagement, two years of public engagement. For somebody to tell you to plant one more tree on the green space is unnecessary. And the voters of Measure P expected new parks,” Arias said.

Arias suggested that the department pay engineers more. He also broached the idea of outsourcing park construction.

Morrison said his department is delivering. Costs because of inflation and general construction workload in Fresno led to increased costs — up to 30% in the last few years.

Budget Motion Update

Through Tuesday, the city council made motions adding nearly $5 million to the city budget. A bulk of those funds — $3.5 million — came from a Karbassi motion for the planning department to realign Beechwood Avenue in northwest Fresno.

The council would have to make equal cuts to keep the budget balanced. A vote on budget motions is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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