Fresno's "strong city" status got a little bit stronger

FRESNO, California

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin was in Washington DC with mayors from five other cities who participated in a program that is now expanding to cities across the country. Swearengin said Fresno is using the program to spend money more wisely and obtain more federal funding. She spoke outside the White House on the importance of the program known as Strong Cities, Strong Communities. "It's working better with state government and federal government to put the kind of infrastructure in place to cut the red tape necessary to help our local industries expand," said Swearengin.

The goal: a better partnership between federal and local agencies. Its mission: to help cities that have faced financial struggles.

President Obama signed an executive order expanding the program to other cities because of the success of the pilot initiative launched last June. "We've certainly seen some benefits in Fresno but the reality is there, are still many bottlenecks and barriers that we face," said Swearengin.

Earlier in the week, the mayor painted a bleak financial outlook for the city if immediate action is not taken. The mayor came out with a 10 year plan to help the city get through a $15 million dollar budget deficit next year, a staggering number she says could have been worse without the federal help. "We're doing everything we can to reduce our expenses at city hall. The other side of that equation though is we have to do what it takes to grow the economy," said Swearengin.

City officials have used the outside help to pursue federal dollars for downtown revitalization. They've also been able to improve disadvantaged areas like Lowell neighborhood. "We've built a formula that we think we can replicate in other parts of the city and the other cities can borrow from, so we really believe we're creating a best practice here in Fresno," said Craig Scharton, director of the Downtown and Community Revitalization Department.

The mayor said the city will continue to participate in the program and apply for federal grants to improve transportation - s specifically, the plan for Fulton Mall.

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