The overall budget boosts funding for the Fresno Police Department by about $7.7 million over 2015-16 and will enable the hiring of about 26 police officers. That will increase the department's number of sworn personnel to 801, not far below its peak staffing in the mid-to-late 2000s, when the recession forced widespread staff cuts across most city departments.
The Fresno Fire Department also is in for an increased allocation of about $5.5 million over last year to boost its firefighter ranks and continue an eight-year program to replace aging vehicles and equipment.
Other budget highlights include an allocation of $5.3 million to catch up on maintenance at parks across Fresno and more than $9 million to cover paving, concrete and street maintenance and pothole repairs, a 36 percent increase over 2015-16.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin was exuberant when she spoke moments after the council's vote adopting the budget. "I think this was the only 7-0 vote" for one of her proposed budgets since she took office in 2009, Swearengin said. She was also pleased with the council's 5-2 vote to route loan repayments to the city from the former Fresno Redevelopment Agency into a reserve fund for the next five years to build up savings against future economic downturns.
"This is the second year in a row that we've been able to add services back, so we're adding more police officers and more firefighters," Swearengin said. "We're now just 5 percent lower in police staffing than we were at our all-time high. And we're continuing to put money in savings....We have fought to protect public safety and we have fought to protect savings, knowing those were the most important things in the budget."
Swearengin was also cheered by an announcement Thursday by San Francisco-based Fitch Ratings, a major credit rating firm, that it had upgraded the city's municipal credit rating from BBB+ to A. Fitch issues ratings on public finance obligations on a scale from AAA, the highest credit quality, to D, or default.
In its statement, Fitch analysts said the higher rating "reflects improvements in the city's financial resilience, inherent budget flexibility and the reserve safety margin." The company cited "significant changes in financial policies and procedures (as a result of) lessons learned during the Great Recession."
The city's improved credit rating "means that in the future, if and when the city needs to borrow money to build police stations or fire stations or whatever, we can borrow money at a cheaper rate," Swearengin said. "That saves taxpayers money and stretches dollars further."