Fresno City Hall sees financial improvements

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Valley's largest city is now digging its way out of a major financial hole. But it will be a while before this good news translates into changes for the public.

This is the first step toward major financial sustainability for Fresno. The city was thought to be on the brink of bankruptcy recently, so even with this good news there's still a lot of work to restore budgets in critical city departments.

The recently completed financial report is a huge deal at city hall, and big news for everyone living in Fresno.

City Controller Mike Lima says it shows major improvements from the crushing blow many expected the city to take. "In their estimation there was a chance that we could go bankrupt within the next 12-15 months," Lima said. "That is no longer in these financial statements."

From 2013 to 2014, there was a shift from massive deficits to the tune of $17.5 million. Fiscal year 2014 ended with a surplus of just over $8 million.

"The plan is working," said Lima. "And we need to continue on that plan to make full financial stability for the city."

City reserves are now at $1.5 million out of the $261 million budget, Lima says, which is not yet enough to restore what was cut in recent years.

Many departments from utilities to parks were cut. Public safety was hard hit as well. According to its union, Fresno Fire has about 20 fewer men and women on staff each day compared to similar cities.

"I just hope that they choose wisely to protect the citizens of Fresno, especially in public safety," said Pete Flores, the president of the Fresno Firefighters Association. "I know our department lost a significant amount of staffing when we took that initial budget cuts. So I'm hoping they reinvest in the department."

The Fresno Police Officers Association says it hopes the city will soon begin to reinvest in the department after crucial cuts there. But rebuilding police will take time.

"I believe they are listening," said FPOA president Jacky Parks. "I believe it's on their radar right now. Unfortunately we're kind of behind that curve right now. And we're competing with all the other agencies."

Despite what these unions hope to see, the city says it will focus on rebuilding reserves and then slowly, strategically rebuilding city services.

This new report will go to city council on Thursday. The city will present a budget to council in about six weeks. That's when we should see a better picture of what this improvement means for Fresno.

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