Upon Taking Office Mayor Swearengin’s team quickly discovered that Fresno’s budget was structurally imbalanced and that the City had also been borrowing from itself, leaving a number of City funds with large negative balances that had to be paid back.
Additionally, City expenses had been locked in during the good times at all-time highs, but then revenues plummeted. When negative fund balances consumed the small cash reserve, Fresno was quickly put on the “bankruptcy watch list.”
Over the Next Five Years
Mayor Swearengin guided the City through the economic crisis, overcoming a cumulative $120 million operating shortfall and avoiding bankruptcy. Her reforms included:
- Reducing city staff by 25%, consolidating departments, outsourcing non-essential services, and contracting with non-profits to deliver some city services.
- Implementing a first-of-its kind for Fresno – the Fiscal Sustainability Policy – laying out a 10-year plan to stabilize the City’s finances.
- Preparing 12-month, 2-year, and 5-year budget forecasts – another Fresno first.
Fresno’s finances have stabilized. The City is on track to pay off all of its remaining negative fund balances this year, begin building a reserve, and add back some critical public safety services, a full 5 years ahead of original estimates.
Prepared for Economic Growth
For decades, Fresno lacked priorities for economic development, which made it impossible to plan and build the infrastructure needed to support private sector job growth and address the City’s chronic unemployment problem. Making matters worse was the City’s 60-year old development code and a highly complex planning and permitting system.
As Mayor, Ashley Swearengin aligned City Hall behind a vision and strategy for growing private sector jobs, which included:
- Rewriting the City’s 60-year old development code.
- Revising the 2035 General Plan to ensure there is enough land zoned for economic growth.
- Implementing a 5-year capital improvement plan that prioritized business infrastructure needs.
- Creating a single-point of contact for industrial businesses looking to expand or locate in Fresno.
- Gaining approval from the Public Utilities Commission for an Enhanced Economic Development Rate, which lowers power costs by 30% for businesses who locate or expand in high unemployment Northern California cities and counties.
- Developing major transportation corridor improvement plans.
- Designing water system improvements that can accommodate immediate and long range demands for the City’s residents and businesses.
- Waiving development impact fees for industrial businesses expanding or locating in Fresno.
- Launching the Fresno Food Expo, a nationally acclaimed trade show promoting Fresno based businesses to international grocery retailers and wholesalers.
Now Fresno’s budget is balanced, the City’s economy is slowly improving, and there is hope for strong future economic growth in a City that has been reborn.