Fresno

Jail beds, expanding code enforcement, new employee deals: Fresno lawmakers slog through final meeting of 2021

It appears the price of a Fresno County Jail bed, much like the rent, is too high.

That was the takeaway as Fresno City Council members wrestled with a case of deja vu in debating a contract for five Fresno Police-controlled jail beds.

In April, Fresno lawmakers approved a contract with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to house arrestees as the county jail. 

That price came out to $104 per person every day. With five guaranteed beds at the jail, the city was on the hook for $520 per day and $189,800 annually. 

But the sheriff’s office changed its rates and never signed the contract with the city, leading Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama to return to City Hall hat-in-hand to once again and ask for approval. 

This time around, the county is charging $130 per person, which totals $650 per day for all five beds and $196,950 per year. 

With the contract set for three years, it also gives the city an option to extend it for another two years at an additional cost of $20 per bed, making the total five year value worth $1.16 million. 

Although the council approved the contract on a 5-2 vote – with council members Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria voting “no,” saying they’d rather see the money go toward new hires – it did not sit right with some of the lawmakers who supported the measure. 

“These are supposed to be our partners when it comes to law enforcement,” Councilman Tyler Maxwell said. “I feel like they pulled a fast one.” 

While Maxwell agreed with Balderrama, saying he didn’t think the sheriff’s office had malicious intent, Arias took it a bit further. 

“We just gave them a beautiful proclamation last meeting for that partnership, and this meeting they not only shake us down for a million, they increase the costs after we had a contract that we had already approved for the previous amount,” Arias said. “I don’t see how this is a partnership. It’s simply a shakedown by the county and is the result of mismanagement of the county jail.” 

Councilman Garry Bredefeld added, “Now the City of Fresno taxpayers are paying an additional fee beyond the fees they already pay, beyond the fees they already pay to the county to keep people locked in. If we’re truly partners, which we are, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

As Mayor Jerry Dyer explained, this policy was first instituted during his tenure as Fresno Police Chief due to the high number of automobile thefts that plagued the city. 

The thieves were often let out of the county jail and quickly returned to the streets to steal more cars, so the city sued the county over the issue, resulting in the county coming back with a policy to guarantee a select number of beds for city arrestees that would not be let out. 

Moving to present day, Balderrama noted that inmates are being released for a variety of reasons, including zero-dollar bail, leading the city to lean on these beds to guarantee that certain inmates are not released. 

“We actually crunched some numbers here recently while we were experiencing a lot of violent crime, and we discovered that a significant percentage of the people who are released – early release, zero-dollar bail or otherwise – do go back to reoffend…,” Balderrama said. 

“We actually had one individual who actually was put in jail for attempted murder and was released and subsequently finished the job, so that’s not OK. That’s not a good process.” 

Council waives audit for convention center

Because the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered nearly all operations at the Fresno Convention Center, the center’s managing company will not have to undergo an audit for Fiscal Year 2021. 

On Thursday, the Fresno City Council approved an agreement with ASM Global Fresno, the convention center’s management company, to forgo the financial audit. 

The audit would normally be submitted every year of the five-year contract with ASM, and while ASM and the city would share the cost of the audit, ASM’s expenses would not exceed $15,000. The audit costs around $30,000 every year, according to city documents. 

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying public health regulations prohibiting large crowds gathering in indoor venues, the Convention Center was closed for virtually all of Fiscal Year 2021. Given the minimal financial activity that occurred at the convention center during Fiscal Year 2021 due to the closure, the Administration and ASM entered into discussions regarding the need for a financial audit,” the city’s staff report reads. 

“Both parties came to the conclusion that a financial audit would not produce meaningful results in light of the minimal financial activity.” 

In place of the regular audit, Fresno’s external auditor, Brown Armstrong, has committed to reviewing the convention center’s finances as part of the city’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, which is scheduled to be released in January. 

The regular audit requirement will resume for Fiscal Year 2022. 

City reaches deal with several labor groups

At the last meeting of the year, the Fresno City Council approved a bevy of new contracts with city workers, including fire fighters. 

In total, the city is allocating over $1.9 million from the general fund to cover salary increases for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association (CFPEA), the Fresno City Employees Association (FCEA) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). 

“It’s been a long time coming since we’ve had multiple labor agreements that we’ve reached agreement on,” Arias said. 

Here’s a breakdown of the new contracts for each group: 

IBEW

  • Term: Dec. 6, 2021, through June 16, 2024. 
  • Wages: 
    • Three percent payment of wages earned from Sep. 14, 2020, through Dec. 5, 2021. 
    • A three percent wage increases effective on Dec. 6, 2021, June 20, 2022, and June 19, 2023. 

CFPEA

  • Term: Dec. 6, 2021, through Dec. 31, 2023. 
  • Wages: 
    • Three percent payment of wages earned from June 22, 2020, through June 20, 2021. 
    • Three percent wage increase retroactively effective June 21, 2021. 
    • Three percent wage increases effective on June 20, 2022, and June 19, 2023. 

FCEA

  • Term: Dec. 6, 2021, through June 16, 2024. 
  • Wages: 
    • Three percent payment of wages earned from Dec. 20, 2020, through Dec. 5, 2021. 
    • Three percent wage increases effective on Dec. 6, 2021, June 20, 2022, and June 19, 2023. 

IAFF Local 202 for Unit 5

  • Term: Dec. 9, 2021, through June 30, 2024. 
  • Wages: 
    • Three percent payment of wages earned from Aug. 17, 2020, through June 30, 29021. 
    • Three percent wage increases effective on Nov. 22, 2021, July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023. 

IAFF Local 202 for Unit 10

  • Term: Dec. 9, 2021, through June 30, 2024. 
  • Wages: 
    • Three percent payment of wages earned from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. 
    • Three percent wage increases effective Nov. 22, 2021, July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023. 

Code enforcement to make additional hires

Along with new contracts for many city employees, the city council approved an expansion to Fresno’s code enforcement department. 

Currently, code enforcement’s abatement team has three light equipment operators and four laborers. 

The council’s action Thursday added six laborers to the team, as well as additional equipment, including a skid steer, skid steer trailer, tool truck, flatbed truck, crew cab truck, Bobcat with loader and bucket and hand tools. 

The total cost for the six new employees and equipment will cost $420,000. 

According to the staff report, the code enforcement team has completed 312 abatements in 2021, which includes boarding up vacant buildings, cleaning up junk and weeding. 

But the expanding duties of the code enforcement team necessitates additional workers. 

“WIth the city covering well over 112 square miles, and with more than 500,000 residents, the violations in need of abatement at vacant lots/buildings and clean-ups are increasing. In addition, the duties of code enforcement continue to expand to cover additional areas, including mobilehome parks and vacant commercial buildings, and these increased duties continue to expand the need for abatement,” the staff report reads. 

“Compounded with the short staffing issues associated with COVID, the city would benefit from these added positions in order to keep up with the growing number of abatements and provide a more efficient and effective service to the residents of Fresno.” 

Fresno eyes its own Veterans Memorial District

Fresno has started the process of exploring the formation of its own Veterans Memorial District, which could mark a split from Clovis. 

In order to form the district, Fresno will have to submit an application to the Local Agency Formation Commission, which will determine if the request is a viable one. 

Currently, Clovis has a Veterans Memorial District that parts of north, east and southeast Fresno is part of. 

The issue arises with the fact that Fresno residents contribute about 40 percent of the Clovis Memorial District’s revenue. 

“The part that I’ve done and was trying to be very thoughtful about this – but it needs to be said because I think we’re in that space now where we are essentially having city of Fresno residents paying taxes without any tangible services being provided to them to the point to where even the building that their paying for doesn’t have any reference to Fresno,” Councilman Luis Chavez said. 

Fresno can form its district with all of the city, moving the parts that pay taxes to the Clovis District to participate in Fresno’s. Or, the city could form its district along the current lines and let the parts of Fresno already under the Clovis district remain. 

According to the city attorney’s office, the most viable funding source would be a special tax, likely in the form of a parcel tax. The city could put a ballot measure together to collect such a tax, which would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass. 

As far as the district’s governance is concerned, Fresno can either form an independent district that will not directly controlled by the city or a dependent district under the city’s jurisdiction.

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.