You can’t blame Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin if she has dreams or probably nightmares about numbers. On Tuesday (5/17), the Mayor pulled the wraps off her new spending plan for Fiscal Year 2012. That makes seven budgets in two and a half years … the entire time she’s been in office. Most mayors and their staffs work up one budget every year, but the Swearengin administration took over Fresno City Hall as the Great Recession raged on. The Mayor and City Leaders had to overcome a nearly $100 million budget shortfall during those months. More than 860 city positions … empty and filled … have been cut from the payroll.
Now, Swearengin is proposing what she calls “one more, tough budget”. The projected deficit is roughly $18.5 million. The two pivotal elements of her spending plan to close the gap are a 3-percent wage concession from city employees and privatizing commercial trash pickup. The Mayor wants both of these options approved by the City Council, but she claims she doesn’t know if she has the Council votes to get both. If not, the City Council may have to consider what the City Manager labels “last resort cuts”. Those cuts include closing two fire stations and reducing fire department staff, closing all community centers, and eliminating the Senior Hot Meals program.
Swearengin now has to sell her new spending plan to the Council, city employees and the public. She believes this budget and the recommendations in it are crucial to get the city moving back to stable financial ground. Swearengin says “There is now a path to get to a structural balance in the city budget for the first time in eight years.”
You can watch my complete interview with Mayor Swearengin regarding the FY-12 budget proposal by clicking on the video player. She talks about the “financial storm” that even Angelo couldn’t have predicted and shedding tears with employees forced out by budget cuts.