Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, left, was one of several city employees and members of the public who addressed City Council members today as they discussed the proposed city budget for fiscal year 2019-20 ahead of a vote on the matter. Photo by David Castellon.
The Fresno City Council today passed a $1.3 billion budget, the largest in the city’s history, but Mayor Lee Brand plans to whittle that down slightly.
“It’s about $1.5 million off,” from being a balanced budget he said, adding that he plans to use his authority to impose line-item vetoes on some of the budgeted items until the budget balanced, meaning that budgeted expenditures by the city don’t exceed anticipated revenues during the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
He said the move is necessary, because last year, city voters approved an amendment to Fresno’s charter prohibiting budgets that spend more than anticipated revenues.
“I sent the Council a letter this afternoon stating that I will use the budget line-item veto power granted to the mayor in the city charter to balance this budget,” Brand stated in a press release issued Wednesday, and he repeated his intent prior to the budget vote this morning.
Before that vote, the council members voted on various amendments to the budget proposal, as they have done in prior meetings since being presented the initial proposal in May.
During discussions before the final budget vote, Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria offered a sort of olive branch to the mayor, noting one-time expenditures could be set aside for a few months until the mid-year budget review – usually occurring in January – to find out if any unspent money from the previous budget could be rolled over into the current budget.
Soria noted that going back to FY 2016, the city’s projected revenues had been higher than the amount estimated in the adopted budget. In FY 2018, the city netted $9.2 million more than projected and $8.8 million more more than projected in FY 2019.
In addition, she offered to set aside her $250,000 proposal to fund U.S. Census outreach – to encourage people to fill out their Census forms to ensure as many Fresno residents as possible are counted – until the mid-year review, and if there is extra money, the council could prioritize which items to fund with it.
Other funding that could be put on hold cited in the meeting included $1 million for a senior center, $50,000 for an internship program, $350,000 for a City Council operating budget and $1 million for a housing trust fund.
But even with that concession, Brand said he’ll likely veto about $1.5 million worth of budget items. He has ten to veto any items and following that, council members have 30 days to override any vetoes.
“I’ll detail that out next week,” Brand said.
Brand noted that the imbalance isn’t with the entire budget, as a large portion of the money comes from the state and federal governments, along with grants, and the city administers them.
For city officials, the important part is what the city earns through taxes and other means put in the General Fund, which would amount to about $346 million in the budget approved today.
“We’re in agreement on 99 percent of the budget,” as the $1.5 million in dispute comprises less than 1% of the budget, Brand said. “But the devil’s in the details.”
That budget was passed in a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Garry Bredefeld casting the no vote about three hours into the council’s regular weekly meeting.
Among the reasons the District 2 councilmember cited for the dissenting vote was that the Fresno Police Department’s budget would increase under it and officers would get pay raises, but none of that money would go to hire more officers, nor would the city’s emergency dispatch center get more dispatchers, despite complaints that 911 callers have been put on hold several minutes due to a dispatcher shortage.
He also citied money going to pay for programs he didn’t support, which include providing $200,000 of matching funds to the non-profit Advance Peace for a program that would provide mentorship programs for gang members, as well as providing stipends for their participation.
Bredefeld also noted a $300,000 budget item to go to Fresno’s immigration committee.
“For these reasons, I am not supporting this budget,” Bredefeld said prior to the vote, adding he also was concerned revenue estimates for the coming fiscal year may be low.
Staff writer Edward Smith contributed to this report.