New Fresno budget keeps four firefighters on each engine. What was cut to do it?

Three fire engine crews across parts of the city of Fresno have been spared a 25% cut in staffing in the new 2024-25 fiscal year budget adopted Thursday by the Fresno City Council.

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and Fire Chief Billy Alcorn had proposed in May to reduce staffing on engines at three of the department’s 20 stations to save an estimated $1.3 million — part of a broader effort across all city departments to close an anticipated $47 million budget deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1. But City Councilmembers Mike Karbassi and Garry Bredefeld, representing districts where two of the three stations are located, registered their strong objections to the cuts when Dyer presented his proposed budget last month.

The council adopted the budget Thursday on a 6-0 vote, with Councilmember Miguel Arias absent. The total allocated for all 23 city departments amounts to almost $2.2 billion, including $483.1 million from Fresno’s General Fund — the pot of money from which many of the city’s day-to-day bills and expenses are paid.

Over the course of several days of budget hearings earlier this month, council members offered 110 motions to add or move money to reflect a wide range of priorities. Those proposals, however, threatened to throw the budget out of balance by about $27 million, Dyer said Thursday. “There’s no way we could fund everything” in the council motions,” he added.

But Dyer and his budget staff, through the course of individual meetings with council members, agreed to include 76 of those proposals in the budget, either in whole or in part, including many which called for no additional spending.

Keeping all Fresno engines at four firefighters

Alcorn’s initial budget proposal called for no layoffs or cuts to the overall department, but included cutting back staffing on engines at three fire stations: Station 2 on West Avenue north of Herndon Avenue in northwest Fresno, Station 16 at Clinton and Polk in west-central Fresno, and Station 17 at Maple and International in northeast Fresno. At those stations, the plan was to reduce the number of firefighters on an engine crew from four to three.

“Those are really just based off of call volume for those stations,” Alcorn said in May.

But Karbassi and Bredefeld balked at the reduced engine staffing, instead insisting that creative solutions could be found to maintain four firefighters at all times on the engines.

In the final incarnation of the budget, Dyer and City Manager Georgeanne White said the money to preserve the station staffing is coming from a reduction in a $6 million payment due to be paid into the pension system for the police and fire departments.

That, however, has fueled fears from the city’s firefighters union. “I’m definitely concerned that not fully funding a system that has been one of the nation’s best for as long as I can remember could be detrimental,” said Dean Sanders, president of the Fresno City Firefighters Local 202. “Currently Fresno City Firefighters don’t support not fully funding the system.

White said that system is already funded at 116% of the city’s pension obligations — a surplus estimated at $268 million. The city will still make a regular $36 million payment from the general fund into the retirement system, but won’t plan on an increased payment of $6 million.

“What we have proposed is not to continue to overfund it,” White said Thursday.

The budget also preserves the fire department’s four medical squads — two-member crews that last year responded to calls for medical aid across the city, freeing up engines and crews to handle fires and other major calls. Dyer said that of about 50,000 calls to the fire department last year, 7,000 were handled by the medical squads.

How much does each city department receive?

Behind the police department, Fresno’s fire department is receiving the second largest allocation of money from the city’s General Fund. Of the total $129.3 million earmarked for the fire department from all sources of money, almost $77.4 million is coming from the General Fund.

The police department has the largest slice of the General Fund, at almost $247 million. The department’s overall budget from all revenue sources is about $284.5 million.