Fresno's $28 Million Budget Problem

November 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
There's a shocking new reality for the city of Fresno. Mayor Ashley Swearengin is proposing major cuts and closures to help balance a budget millions of dollars in the red.She says the city faces a $28 million shortfall. She's proposing layoffs for 125 city employees and 66 more unfilled positions will be left vacant for a total of 191 job cuts.

Those cuts include more than 100 positions in the police department, although none of them will be sworn officers. Most other employees will have to take five unpaid furlough days by New Year's Eve of this year.

Firefighters won't lose their jobs, but they'll be forced to take 84 furlough hours every year ? the equivalent of two weeks work ? and Swearengin is proposing the closure of two Fresno city fire stations ? at Grantland and Bullard in Northwest Fresno, and at the airport.

The ax fell hard on nearly every city department Thursday as Mayor Swearengin laid out budget cuts for the next 18 months.

"Let's not kid ourselves," said city manager Andy Souza. "We are not going to get to these numbers without somebody being impacted. And I'm not trying to be callous because please, we have all lost a heckuva lot of sleep over this issue."

Even after cutting $27 million this spring, some faulty projections on tax revenue and retirement costs leave the city in a huge hole.

The numbers look like this:
The city is losing $18.2 million in revenue this year.
And it's paying an extra $9.6 million in expenses.
Add it up, and you have $27.8 million to make up.

"The forecasting that was done was fairly conservative," said city council member Lee Brand. "But it wasn't conservative enough."

The cuts will be painful in ways it might take a while to notice as well.

Four neighborhood centers will be shut down, city departments could shut down when employees take forced furloughs, and even tree trimming services will be reduced.

"We will do our best and constantly walk that fine line of balancing our ability to deliver services to the people of Fresno and maintain employees," said Mayor Swearengin. "But ultimately, we have to live within our means."

City Council is set to vote on some of the proposals on Nov. 30. The rest are at the city manager's discretion, so pink slips should start going out on Dec. 1. And there's one big problem that could force even deeper cuts in the future.


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