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."



Brown's Bar-B-Q was packed Friday morning as farmers gathered to learn from officials about how to apply for SC farm aid.

The meeting was the first of 19 that will be held over the next few weeks as the agricultural sector looks to rebound following last fall's historic flooding, which wiped out an estimated $400 million in crops.

Farmers who incurred a 40 percent loss of agricultural commodities are eligible for grants up to $100,000 under a $40 million aid package passed by the legislature in late May.

Rep. Roger Kirby, a Democrat from District 61, co-sponsored the legislation and said he came to the meeting as "my whole district is ag. This is an important thing for a lot of my constituents."

Kirby was glad the first meeting was held in what he called "the heart of the farm belt in the Pee Dee."

"The intent is not to make every farmer whole. We wanted to help as many as we could with limited resources," he said. "It's more intended to help small family farms that are on the brink of disaster."

While taking a mid-meeting break, Cliff Barron said "probably about 70 percent" of his row crops were destroyed by the October flooding. Cultivating about 1,000 acres in Johnsonville, the 36-year-old farmer focuses on corn, beans and wheat. Drought conditions last year had already taken a severe toll on his corn before the historic deluge.

"All our hopes were on the beans and next thing you know, we got 27 inches of rain in three days," he said. "It was frustrating - we had good crops in the field."

Once he gets all his documentation squared away, he'll apply for aid.

"Things look better" this year, said Barron, who's farmed for 15 years. "A good-looking corn crop - beans looking pretty average. Things look up a little bit."

Bill Wallace isn't sure he'll apply until he plugs his numbers into the formula that determines his actual losses vs. expected revenue.

"I'm borderline," said the 61-year-old, who farms about 140 acres of corn and soybeans near Turbeville.

He knows several farmers with heavy losses who had to quit. He hasn't had to borrow money to purchase equipment and has been able to finance seed purchases, whereas fertilizer and chemicals have to paid for up front.

"It's just hard. It's a struggle and will take awhile to bounce back," he said. "Sometimes you want to throw your hands up and walk away."

Still, he knows farmers like himself "have to keep on going."

"Right now there's a bumper crop of corn," he said, "but my fields are still wet and we can't plant beans. We've put down some but not much."

Hugh Weathers showed up at the well-known barbecue restaurant toward the end of the meeting.

"I want to hear what's on our farmer's minds," said Weathers, the state's secretary of agriculture. "I'm going to go to as many meetings as I can."

Though the entire program has been launched fairly quickly - the legislature overrode Gov. Nikki Haley's veto on May 24 -- Weathers hopes for as little bureaucracy as possible.

"This whole thing took about 45 days," he said, referring to the agriculture department planning for implementation of the aid. "In another 45 days we hope to be writing checks but it depends on meetings like this."

For more information about SC Farm Aid, check out https://agriculture.sc.gov/.



Georgians prefer to save their money in the United States (US) dollar and borrow money in the national currency, the Georgian Lari (GEL).

This could explain by the instability of the Lari, which has fluctuated in value against the USD and the Euro in the last 19 months, say local banking experts.

After remaining steady the 2.1 GEL for every US dollar for the past month, the Lari peaked at 2.12 GEL. This was up from February's rate when the Lari was worth 2.5000 GEL for every US dollar.

However last week the Lari dropped and has continued to do so in the recent days. Today 1 USD cost 2.29 GEL. In the exchange booths the rate was much higher and reached 2.39 GEL.

This changing exchange rate has influenced the public and the currency they choose to borrow and save, said the National Bank of Georgia (NBG).

The larisation ratio, which measured the use of the domestic currency in the country's economy, constituted 33.07 percent of all non-bank deposits last month, revealed new data published by the bank.

In May 2016 people in Georgia deposited 13.5 billion GEL into local banks but borrowed 15.2 billion GEL, said NBG.

Current trends of bank deposits

In May 2016 the sum of deposits made in Georgia's banking sector reached 13.5 billion GEL. This was a 6.5 percent decrease, or 939.3 million GEL less month-on-month.

Also last month the volume of term deposits decreased by 312.6 million GEL, while demand deposits decreased by 626.7 million GEL.

The larisation ratio constituted 33.07 percent in total non-bank deposits last month. Meanwhile the share of the US dollar in the total volume of foreign currency denominated deposits equalled 81.4 percent and the share of the Euro equalled 15.7 percent.

How much did banks lend in May?

Commercial banks in Georgia lent 15.2 billion GEL in May 2016 to borrowers, which was 274 million GEL or 1.8 percent less compared to April 2016.

Statistics showed loans taken out in the Georgian national currency increased by 10.3 million GEL (0.2 percent) while the volume of loans in foreign currencies decreased by 284.3 million GEL or by 2.9 percent in May.

By the end of May 2016, commercial banks issued 1.6 billion GEL worth of national currency-denominated loans (two percent less compared to the previous month), and five billion GEL worth of foreign currency denominated loans (3.6 percent less) to resident legal entities.

There are 19 commercial banks in Georgia including 17 foreign-controlled banks and one branch of non-resident banks.



This is the Brexit Britain envisioned by UK Treasury chief George Osborne, who on Friday abandoned long-held plans to produce a budget surplus by 2020.

We will continue to be tough on the deficit but we must be realistic about achieving a surplus by the end of this decade, Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne said.

Osborne warned earlier this week that more austerity would be needed following a shock decision by British voters to leave the European Union. Tax hikes and spending cuts are both on the way, he said.

The referendum result is as expected likely to lead to a significant negative shock for the British economy, he reiterated Friday. How we respond will determine the impact on peoples jobs and on economic growth.

Osborne warned ahead of the vote that an emergency budget would be needed to fill a black hole of about £30 billion ($42.6 billion) per year if the UK left the EU. Critics dismissed the warning and accused the Treasury official of running a campaign based on fear.

In the wake of the Brexit referendum, the Office of Budget Responsibility -- which provides independent analysis to government -- canceled plans to issue new economic forecasts this month. It wont give a judgment on the fiscal fallout of the vote until the fall.

But bank economists have already slashed growth forecasts for this year and next. Some predict a recession.

On Monday, Standard amp; Poors and Fitch Ratings both downgraded the UKs credit rating. The weaker credit rating could make it harder and more expensive for the UK to borrow money and finance its debts.

The UK has the second highest budget deficit in the G7 after Japan. And gross government debt is already £1.7 trillion ($2.24 trillion), or 90% of GDP.

Theresa May, the leading candidate to succeed David Cameron as prime minister, said that the government should borrow more in an attempt to avoid raising taxes.

We should no longer seek to reach a budget surplus by the end of the Parliament, May said a speech announcing her candidacy.

Fiscal stimulus is likely to be preceded by monetary stimulus from the Bank of England.

-- Simon Cullen and Mark Thompson contributed reporting.