Written by Edward Smith
June is the beginning of budget season for municipalities and Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer released his first budget proposal Wednesday.
The proposed $1.42 billion proposal focuses on enhancing public safety, with a plan for more police officers, firefighters and a Homeless Response Team. And despite a drastic decline in sales tax revenues, a rise in property tax revenues did help keep Fresno above water.
In a press conference Wednesday, Dyer presented his budget. Because of shutdowns in response to the pandemic, sales tax revenues were “not anywhere close to where they would have been,” said Dyer.
The shutdown of Club One Casino in Downtown Fresno resulted in $1 million in lost revenue alone.
Big-box stores did help supplement what taxes restaurants and other small businesses didn’t bring the city, but not enough to make up the shortfall, said Dyer.
Loss of travel and tourism caused declines in revenue from Fresno Yosemite International Airport as well as Fresno Area Express. Transient taxes from hotels also decreased. The February financial report from the City — the most recent published — reported a $2.5 million decline in tax revenues. That represents a 22.6% drop year-over-year.
Development fees also decreased $3.7 million year-over-year, or 26%, for the eight months after June 30, 2020.
Property tax increases from a booming housing market increased revenues 7% year-over-year, said Dyer.
To aid in budget shortfalls, the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March sent money directly to cities. The first half of the $170 million arrived this week, Dyer said.
Dyer said he wanted to focus that money on one-time expenses. He is going to propose to Fresno City Council using $20.3 million to go toward various one-time costs such as vehicle repairs.
Measure P — the new tax on retail sales to fund new parks — will go into effect July 1. Dyer anticipates $37.5 million to come in fiscal year 2020, but the first dollars won’t be seen until October.
Dyer is also proposing a new initiative to streamline the Economic Development Department as well as the Planning and Development Departments. Businesses have long railed against the inefficiencies of permitting department with the City of Fresno and the pandemic compounded these issues with staff being forced to work from home. Permits also had to be filed using the new Accela website, which many complained about not being user-friendly.
The Mayor’s budget would add more funding and staff, including the creation of two positions for economic development coordinators.
“Facilitating grants through funding from the American Rescue Plan and removing governmental red tape will be an Economic Development Department priority,” the Mayor’s Budget proposal reads.
The Mayor’s office said that in order to meet current and future housing demands, a more efficient and streamlined form of government is needed.
“The city’s planning, permitting and inspection process needs to be reimagined,” the proposal reads.
Dyer said he commissioned a review of staffing levels structure, technology and organizational culture. He said great strides had been made, but there was still much room for improvement.
An Express Development Department would be created with a hope to streamline simple over-the-counter permit requests. Projects that would take 14 days can be reduced to five-day waiting periods, said Jennifer Clark, director of the Development and Resource Management Department with the City of Fresno.
Public services would also increase. Mayor Dyer set forth a goal to hire 120 police officers over the next 15 months, which would fill 58 existing vacancies and another 50 anticipated vacancies. This would increase the number of police officers by 12 to 850.
In response to a 51% increase in calls for fire support in 2020 from 2019, the budget calls for 42 additional firefighters. This would mean the daily number of firefighters would increase to 95 from 81.
The budget also allocates money for a Homeless Assistance Response Team, which would act as a point-of-contact for homeless people looking for resources.
The budget also allocates over $1.9 million for a citywide senior center, which Dyer said Fresno has needed for some time.