Despite consistent financial struggles for the city, Mayor Swearengin has always been optimistic in her three "State of the City" addresses. But her optimism this time came with a warning. She said the city is teetering between a breakthrough and a collapse.
Booming industries, abundant jobs, and low crime rates are Swearengin's vision for her city. It's a basic set of goals laid out in the mayor's "State of the City" address, but for cash-strapped Fresno, they're nearly out of reach. Swearengin, though, still sees steps in the right direction.
"The serious threat of the city's finances doesn't in any way negate the real progress that we're making in economic development and neighborhood revitalization," she said.
Mayor Swearengin pointed to progress in employment -- like the efforts to save the 144th Fighter Wing, and new jobs coming to a Northwest Fresno call center. She also credited police for reducing violent crime and auto theft. But just a day earlier, the mayor's budget announcement put police, and other city employee unions, on notice that she needs $12 million from them to balance the budget. She told the crowd of 800 Wednesday that without those concessions, the city could face a fiscal emergency.
The police union says the city would be better off skipping a fiscal emergency declaration -- which would allow the city to renegotiate every union's contract – and go straight to bankruptcy.
"Declaring a fiscal emergency with opening contracts is nothing more than declaring bankruptcy," said Jacky Parks of the Fresno Police Officers' Association. "You're just stalling bankruptcy off for a little while."
But Swearengin said vision gives pain purpose, so if unions and residents and businesses can see a prosperous future, Fresno can overcome its obstacles.
"I'm optimistic we're going to find solutions to those challenges, but when you're a city that's changing and transforming both things are true at the same time," she told Action News. "Good things are happening and we still have major challenges to overcome."
Action News also asked Mayor Swearengin about trying to restructure some bad debts, like Granite Park or the Met. But because the city's bond rating has been reduced, she says refinancing won't help much at all.