Fresno

With Fresno’s finances uncertain, Brand to push for short-term budget deal

As coronavirus wreaked havoc on sales tax revenues across the Golden State, Fresno Lee Brand announced he will be taking a new approach to budgeting for California’s fifth largest city.

Wednesday, Brand announced he will be presenting a short-term budget bill, known as a continuing resolution, to the Fresno City Council to cover expenses for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021 – which commences July 1.

In mid-April, Fresno budget officials estimated that the city would take on a $32 million shortfall in revenue for the upcoming budget year.

The continuing resolution approach differs from the 23 prior city budgets proposed during Fresno’s strong mayor era of government, including those adopted during the Great Recession.

Ordinarily, the City of Fresno adopts a yearlong budget during the spring and summer months and entertains amendments and tweaks depending on incoming revenue.

In the lead-up to adopting a budget, the City Council would review budgets department-by-department.

Brand is to provide a conventional budget presentation following the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

That period, a statement by the Brand administration reads, “would also be the earliest the Administration and the Council should consider tapping into the City’s emergency reserve fund.”

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, amid a national financial collapse and the Great Recession, it was not uncommon for Fresno to undergo a half-dozen changes to the City budget.

Brand’s stopgap budget plan will extend or roll over the current funding levels for departments for July through September.

“The decision to propose a continuing resolution was not an easy one and was taken with a great deal of thought and consideration, with the overriding concern to minimize the impacts of this crisis on the critical services the City provides to our residents and our employees,” Brand said. 

“I believe this is the correct path to ensure the City of Fresno can fulfill its responsibilities, and I firmly believe that as a community we have demonstrated that we have the courage and dedication to weather this storm and emerge a better and safer city.” 

Mark Standriff, Brand’s chief spokesman, said that the extension of current funding levels will ensure that the City will avoid layoffs of permanent city staffing positions during the three-month period.

The City of Fresno is currently under a hiring freeze, he added.

In conversation with The Sun, Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias expressed deep reservations over the decision to pursue 2019 spending levels, which he described as at “historic highs” for an additional three months while City financials show a growing chasm in tax revenue from the spring economic shutdown.

He added that the City Council would require additional information from the Brand administration, including department-specific figures, before agreeing to pursue a continuing resolution.

Meanwhile, Councilman Mike Karbassi noted that he was entertaining a path with a continuing resolution.

“COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty and we need time to be able to assess the true impact to our economy,” Karbassi said in a statement to The Sun. “A continuing resolution may be a useful tool so long as it includes hiring freezes for non critical positions and a freeze on salary increases.”

“My biggest priority is avoiding negative impacts to public safety and other services which are essential for our residents.”

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.