Fresno

Dyer pitches $1.4bil budget pitch heavy on public safety additions, homeless response

Coming off a financially uncertain year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer is planning for the city to rebound strong as the economy continues to recover and reopen. 

Dyer outlined his proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget on Wednesday, which he will present to the Fresno City Council at Thursday’s meeting. 

The council will hash through the proposal and adopt a final budget by June 30. 

“Although there’s many fiscal uncertainties that remain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am extremely confident, as is City Manager [Tommy] Esqueda, that the City of Fresno is poised to rebound financially faster than any city in California,” Dyer said. 

“With this in mind, my administration is betting on Fresno’s future economy and building the Fiscal Year 2022 budget on aggressive revenue projections.” 

Dyer’s budget totals $1.4 billion, which includes nearly $375 million for the General Fund and $604 million for the enterprise departments.

Overall, the proposal adds 153 new positions to the city’s payroll, including 120 that are through the General Fund. 

Here are some of the highlights from Dyer’s budget proposal: 

Public Safety

Crime rose in meteoric proportions in 2020, including nearly 600 more violent crimes than the year prior.

Overall, Fresno tallied 732 shootings – a 95 percent increase from 2019 – and 74 homicides, the most in the last 25 years. 

In response, Dyer is looking to add 12 new officers to the Police Department, which also needs to fill 58 vacancies and 50 anticipated vacancies over the next 15 months. The police department would have 850 officers under Dyer’s proposal. 

In addition to the additional police officers, the department would add 10 community service officers to handle lower priority calls, four dispatchers, four crime scene investigators and two other investigators that will conduct background investigations. 

Dyer said his administration superseded Police Chief Paco Balderrama’s budget requests on the heels of a challenging 2020. 

Balderrama said 77 officers have left the department over the last year – as well as others on long-term absences – leaving the department with 690 working officers, less than it had a decade ago. 

“The defunding movement and negative sentiments towards police have hurt our recruiting efforts and reduced our workforce,” Balderrama said. 

The Police Chief was grateful for Dyer’s financial support of the department he once ran. 

“Our city is growing. We need to grow as well. Comparatively speaking, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Tulsa all have a lower population than Fresno but more police officers than we do here. Some of these cities, several of them, have twice as many police officers. When police departments are understaffed, there are consequences.” 

While the Advance Peace gun violence prevention program is starting operations in Fresno, it is not specifically funded in the budget.

Dyer said his administration fully supports the program and is committed to funding it through the American Rescue Plan, state and federal grants as well as private foundations. 

Dyer’s proposal will also add 42 firefighters to an understaffed Fire Department, bringing the total to 347 firefighters. The number of daily firefighters would increase from 81 to 95.

The new firefighters will be funded by the Federal SAFER grant, which the city has received this year after the previous administration bucked the city council’s directive and failed to apply for it last year. 

Dyer is also proposing to funnel $2.9 million from the American Rescue Plan to three fire drill schools. 

Other additions to the department include four fire prevention inspectors, one senior fire prevention inspector, one engineer and two maintenance operations assistants. 

“I’m really pleased,” Fire Chief Kerri Donis said. “This really is a bold step forward. It advances this fire department in a big way. This is the type of leaps and big moves that need to take place to really move the needle for our fire service, and I couldn’t be more pleased.” 

Homelessness

With the success of Project Off-Ramp to move homeless individuals into shelters around the city, Dyer intends to establish the Homeless Assistance Response Team (HART), which will be comprised of workers from community based organizations who will be the initial and primary point of contact for the city’s homeless population. 

Police officers, code enforcement officers and sanitation crews will serve in support roles, Dyer said. 

The team will be funded by local, state and Federal money. 

Along with HART, Dyer said the city needs to continue acquiring motels for emergency shelter, navigation centers and permanent supportive housing, as has been done under Project HomeKey. 

Dyer said he will push the City Council to purchase the Valley Inn Motel, which will provide an additional 107 rooms for the homeless and allow the city to complete its relocation efforts along Highway 99.

Beautify Fresno and Public Works

Dyer said volunteer cleanups, trash removal, graffiti abatement, sidewalk repairs, street paving and tree trimming, removal and planting will “dramatically increase” over the following year. 

With a drastic increase in graffiti over the past year, Dyer is looking to add three crews to the Graffiti Abatement Team and replace old trucks and equipment. 

Dyer is also seeking to update the equipment used by the teams that work on neighborhood infrastructure and trash removal. 

“Neighborhoods that were once forgotten and left behind will be prioritized and brought back to life in the City of Fresno,” Dyer said. 

Fresno will also start receiving tax money from Measure P in July, although the revenues will not be available to spend until October. 

Dyer’s administration is expecting to have nearly $30 million in Measure P funds throughout the fiscal year, and has allocated over $21 million to complete unfinished parks projects that have been identified by the city council as a high priority. Dyer is waiting to allocate the remaining $8 million until the Parks Commission makes specific recommendations. 

The Department of Public Works will start overseeing services to develop and maintain parks facilities in Fiscal Year 2022 and will have a budget of $4.8 million. 

Housing Development

Dyer’s administration is seeking to change the culture at City Hall to reflect a “we work for you” attitude as Fresno experiences a housing shortage. 

“In order to meet the current and future housing demands as well as stimulate our local economy, a more efficient and streamlined form of government will be provided,” Dyer said. 

In order to streamline the plan check and inspection process for developers, Dyer is seeking to increase funding for staffing levels in the Economic Development Department and the Planning and Development Department. 

Dyer’s budget will also create the Express Development Team, which is intended to streamline services for the Planning and Development Department. 

“This budget is a huge step in allowing investment to occur in the City of Fresno,” Planning and Development Director Jennifer Clark said. “We in the Planning and Development Department have worked very hard to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our customer, and we want to do that in a much more effective and expedient matter.” 

Fresno City Council tight-lipped

Members of the Fresno City Council offered little insight into their views on the budget following Dyer’s announcement Wednesday.

Fresno City Council President Luis Chavez said he would reserve judgment on the merits of the budget proposal until he had time to review it.

“Without having fully read the administration’s budget proposal,
it would be premature to comment further on it,” Chavez said in a statement. “The process from proposal to final budget is long and filled with difficult decisions ahead, but we remain focused on improving the quality of life for all Fresnans in our city.”

Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria echoed Chavez’s sentiments.

“I look forward to a robust debate about how we invest every single penny of that $1.4 billion budget,” says Fresno City Council member Esmeralda Soria.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.