Fresno City Council gets first look at Mayor Dyer’s budget
Fresno City Council members got their first look at Mayor Jerry Dyer’s proposed budget during Thursday’s council meeting and shared some of their thoughts on the mayor’s proposals for police, services mental health and roads.
Dyer first presented his proposed $1.7 billion budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year to reporters on Wednesday. He pointed to the addition of police and firefighters, new housing programs and higher-than-expected tax revenue for parks.
City officials may have unprecedented opportunities with this year’s healthy budget, thanks to state and federal funding for the COVID-19 pandemic. It also means the mayor’s office and city council will likely have even more disagreements over how to spend the money, which will happen during city budget hearings for every city department in mid-June.
“I know it’s going to be dissected and tweaked, and there will be budget motions — hopefully less than last year,” Dyer joked with board members Thursday while thanking his aides for their hard work. “But I know there will be changes to it, and that’s how our system works.”
Council members had the most questions about the police department’s budget, which Dyer had previously set up as the former police chief.
Councilman Tyler Maxwell said his support for adding police officers would depend on the return of bike patrols to the El Dorado Park neighborhood in his district.
Dyer and Police Chief Paco Balderrama assured Maxwell that this was already happening, which also seemed like news to the other council members.
Balderrama told council that bike units would return to the El Dorado Park and Tower District neighborhoods by the end of June. Additionally, he hopes to add similar units to each of the city’s other police districts. He is trying to get subsidies for the bicycle units, but even without the subsidies the plans are in motion.
“Each district will have a cycling team,” Balderrama said. “I see the value in having these police officers on bikes, engaging with the community much better than a police car, and we want them back.”
At the request of Council member Mike Karbassi, Balderrama has also developed a new street racing team. The team will include a sergeant and 10 motorcycle officers who will collect street racing information. Balderrama said most of the complaints he receives relate to street racing and homelessness, not violent crime.
The department’s biker unit numbered about 80 officers. He currently has 11 vacancies, Balderrama said, and he hopes to bolster the unit to 60 officers in the coming years.
To address one of the recommendations made by the Commission on Police Reform, Dyer proposed allocating about $600,000 to a mental health triage and intervention team.
The money would fund a mental health professional at the police department’s dispatch center for up to 18 hours a day to assess who should answer calls. Depending on the circumstances, a health clinician may be deployed instead of or in addition to the officers.
Council members were quick to criticize the proposal, noting that mental health services are the responsibility of Fresno County, not the city.
Council member Miguel Arias, for example, said the money would fund a response to a mental health crisis rather than a proactive approach to providing mental health services.
“I’m going to push back the sanity a bit,” Dyer said in response. “Mental health is not our responsibility. I think you alluded when you consider that the budget of the Fresno County Behavioral Health Department far exceeds that of our police departments; we will rely on them heavily to partner with us.
“But we’re going to do our part with the money we’ve allocated to do the mental health triage in response, but we still need the county to step up and get those services to us,” he said.
Balderrama agreed that the delivery of mental health services should not be done by police officers, but since they often respond to dangerous situations involving mental health, they will continue to train for de-escalation and mental health crises.
“My police officers are not advisers. They are not clinicians. They are not psychologists,” Balderrama said. “
Arias criticized Dyer’s proposed budget, noting that it included a record amount but not a record amount of spending for Fresno’s South Neighborhood projects, such as road repairs. He showed pictures of crumbling residential streets to get his point across.
“I know we have a lot of projects here, but for neighborhoods like the Tower District, West Fresno, South Fresno, this isn’t funding any major new projects to finally fix streets that have been broken for 40 years. .”
Councilman Garry Bredefeld raised similar concerns for roads in his district, noting that there are areas where children don’t have sidewalks to use.
Dyer said there was nearly $40 million in additional infrastructure funding from American Rescue Plan Act funding, including street paving.
Both Dyer and Bredefeld pointed out that the city has about $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance for the streets.