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In Studio: Fresno City Council president discusses record $1.87 billion budget

 City council president sits before a microphone in a radio studio
Elizabeth Arakelian
Fresno City Council President visited the KVPR studios to discuss the City of Fresno's record $1.87 billion budget.

The Fresno City Council recently passed its largest budget in city history: $1.87 billion dollars.

Departments, such as police and fire, are getting a record boost in funding and new positions are being created to fix potholes in city streets. Much of the spending plan is made up of tax dollars.

In an interview with “All Things Considered” Host Elizabeth Arakelian, Fresno City Council President Tyler Maxwell said reinvesting those funds into the city is helping attract nearby residents to spend their dollars in Fresno.

Listen to the interview in the player on this page and read the transcript below.

MAXWELL: We do pride ourselves on providing a lot of entertainment for not just the city of Fresno, but for the outlying cities too. That's the Selmas, the Kingsburgs, the Firebaughs, the Coalingas and what have you. So we know that the better job that we do of attracting people to the city of Fresno to spend their dollars when it comes to eating or watching a movie or just shopping with the family, those dollars will go back directly into our local economy. And so that is why we put a lot of emphasis on making attractions that people from outside of Fresno also want to come and visit.

ARAKELIAN: People might ask where all that funding is coming from. So what do you say to critics who say “This tells me my city is spending more. Is that a good thing?”

MAXWELL: If we're spending more it's only because we're getting more and that's typically through sales tax, business tax, property tax and things like hotel tax. And look, part of it is we have leftover dollars from certain programs because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 2020, obviously a very hard year. 2021, we started to rebound a little bit. In 2022 we saw taxes get back to their pre-Covid levels and in 2023 people are buying a lot of properties and people are out shopping. They're out eating, they're going to the movies and we've realized that with this current budget.

ARAKELIAN: In general, how's the city doing? Financially, is it healthy? Are there reserves? What's the big picture takeaway?

MAXWELL: Yeah, not only do we have the largest budget ever, but we have the largest reserve ever in the city of Fresno. We have 10% of our total budget in reserves when it comes to our general funds. Overall, this is a healthy budget. We're seeing record investments into everything from our parks to public safety. We are about to bring online a total of 900 officers — largest number in the City of Fresno. 375 firefighters. One of the big critiques that I get is response times. You call 9-1-1. There's an emergency. It takes a long time to get somebody on the phone and then to get an officer out at your house. We hope that by doing these salary increases and hiring additional folks people in Fresno are gonna see a drastic decrease when it comes to that response time.

ARAKELIAN: 25 million additional for the fire department bringing it to $127 million total, that's like a 25% increase in their budget — that seemed enormous to me. So why were fire and police such a priority? You mentioned response times, anything else?

MAXWELL: They were stretched extremely thin and so we're bringing that number up for the fire department. You got to respond to every single fire. You don't have a choice. And so we're trying to make them a little bit more equal when it comes to the resources that they have to respond to those types of calls.

ARAKELIAN: There will be a rate hike for trash services potentially coming down the pike. Why don't you explain to people what's happening there.

MAXWELL: Sure. So if you live in a single family home your solid waste — so, you know trash recycling — those rates are dictated by something called the Prop 218 process and this is something that council has to initiate any time that we need to increase fees. That's gonna have to be a consideration that Council has to make: Do we want to initiate a prop 218 process that would increase those rates? We could. There's a couple other options. You could not increase the rates at all and you're going to have worse trash services, or alternatively we have to subsidize the Solid Waste Department with general funds, which we don't typically do.

ARAKELIAN: Alright Tyler Maxwell, Fresno City Council president. Thanks, Tyler.

MAXWELL: Thank you very much.

A Valley native, Elizabeth earned her bachelor's degree in English Language Literatures from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her master's degree in journalism from New York University. She has covered a range of beats. Her agriculture reporting for the Turlock Journal earned her a first place award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. While in graduate school she covered the New Hampshire Primary for NBC Owned Television Stations and subsequently worked as a television ratings analyst for the company's business news network, CNBC. Upon returning to California, her role as a higher education public relations professional reconnected her to the Valley's media scene. She is happy to be back to her journalism roots as a local host at KVPR.