Fresno mayor lauds city's financial turnaround

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city of Fresno has a little more money to spend and now the city has plans to turn its brighter financial picture to help residents.

The three major bond rating agencies agree the city has turned around its financial picture by lowering the cost of financing. That will save the city money it can use to boost public services - a little.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand says the city has risen from junk bond status to an A+ rating, and he credits a variety of fiscal policies, many of which he authored as a city council member, for helping turn things around and avoiding bad investments.

"There's been no more Met Museums, no more Granite Parks," he said.

The boost in ratings from the three major bond agencies will lower the city's payments by just under $2 million a year. It's not a lot of money in a $1 billion budget but it's a positive sign.

"We still need more to go but it's a big step in the right direction," Brand said. "I've got my work cut out for me."

The city took a hard hit during the recession, with about 900 employees laid off, retiring or quitting. The head of the Fresno City Employees Union, Dee Barnes, sees progress.

"Things are definitely better than in 2010 and '11," Barnes explained. "They are starting to hire back employees."

But she notes pay and benefits aren't what they used to be, and the city is having a more difficult time hiring and retaining people.

"Health insurance has really gone up, the wages have not been keeping up with some of the other agencies around us," she said. "The city has a ways to go to go back to the way it was."

The city is also facing millions in unknown costs. Last week, the city council boosted its liability fund by $3 million to cover.

"Police actions, ADA lawsuits, path of travel, all of those things combine to create financial challenges as we go forward," City Manager Bruce Rudd explained.

But Brand says the savings, combined with a growing economy, should help the city restore positions to police and other departments, and fix streets and parks. But he says while it won't all happen overnight things are definitely looking up.

"Time Magazine and other publications were predicting Fresno was going to go bankrupt and we proved them all wrong," Brand said.
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