Monday, November 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Fresno finds itself in trouble, despite frugality

walters column sig

By
From page A11 | February 13, 2013 |

A couple of years ago, as many California cities were struggling with budget deficits that eventually sent several of them into bankruptcy court, Fresno appeared to be a shining exception.

The city and its mayor, Alan Autry, had kept a tight lid on spending, enjoyed a healthy surplus and had been rewarded with a sterling credit rating.

No more. Fresno, the state’s fifth-largest city, is now in deep fiscal distress.

Autry’s successor, Ashley Swearingen, wants to privatize the city’s trash collection system and counts on an infusion of upfront cash from the private contractor, plus monthly franchise fees, to keep the city afloat.

The city manager warns that without that infusion and some service cuts, the city might not make payroll in a few weeks.

However, the city’s unions are stoutly resisting the trash contract awarded to Mid Valley Disposal and have turned in ballot measure petitions to overturn it.

Moody’s Investors Service, which less than two years ago gave Fresno an Aa2 credit rating and declared the city’s finances to be “very strong,” has since downgraded the city’s bonds step by step, culminating in a recent drop to a subpar level. Moody’s cited a big general fund deficit, high payrolls and other fixed costs and a struggling local economy.

Nobody’s uttered the B-word – bankruptcy – yet in Fresno, but clearly if it cannot meet all of its obligations, that becomes an alternative, just as it did in Stockton and San Bernardino.

The key to Fresno’s immediate future obviously is the trash collection franchise, which promises the city $1.5 million in immediate cash, plus $200,000 a month. But Fresno is also becoming ground zero for public employee union opposition to privatization of public services at any level of government.

Assuming the referendum to overturn the franchise makes the ballot, which appears likely, the local union campaign will be supplemented by cash and other resources from public employee unions elsewhere.

As a test of Swearingen’s political talents, it could affect her status as one of the few Republican politicians with potential for statewide office.

Fresno thus joins distressed municipalities that range from tiny hamlets to Los Angeles. And while the circumstances differ somewhat from city to city, the high fixed costs and moribund revenue that plague Fresno are a fairly common feature.

Property and sales taxes from the housing bubble encouraged cities to loosen their purse strings, and when the housing bubble burst, those costs remained while revenue stagnated or even declined.

Even Fresno, which had boasted of its frugal ways, found itself in trouble.

And if the referendum succeeds, what then?

There’s no free lunch, and other city workers may lose their jobs to protect those of trash collectors.

Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. Reach him at dwalters@sacbee.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 3 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Rick WoodFebruary 12, 2013 - 11:44 am

    "Despite frugality." Note that. People are starting to realize that it's almost all a revenue problem at this point. Between the recession and state takeaways, cities really can't be blamed for the mess they are in. The evidence that people are coming around is the passage of local sales taxes and the like for general city services. It's a shame it's come to this. Fairfield would actually be in good shape but for the state takeaways. Local sales taxes aren't the whole answer, nor are they a sustainable answer or a particularly good answer, but it's what we have. I think more use of benefit assessment districts needs consideration. They are the fairest way to go for some things: Beneficiaries pay for the benefits they recieve, and they get to vote in proportion to the amount they will pay.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mr. PracticalFebruary 13, 2013 - 10:11 am

    Rick, I agree whole-heartedly. The biggest factors affecting Calif. cities are the economy ,the loss of redevelopment agencies and other state initiatives that have attempted to balance its budget by requiring municipalities to should financial responsibility without appropriate funding.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensFebruary 13, 2013 - 7:13 am

    Its never the fault of California's city governments. They, like the state aren't responsible for their spending and unions. Instead, its the people's fault---especially those people who complained and warned you about all of this.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Cadets raise cash to help wounded Air Force veteran

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Solano cities gather for Thanksgiving meal

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Food Addicts group sets Thanksgiving Day meet

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Local government board schedules meeting

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Turkey Trot returns Thanksgiving Day

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3

Holiday tree-lighting events begin

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3

 
Holiday boutiques in full swing

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
.

US / World

3 months after Napa quake, recovery rolling

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

Anxieties mount as Ferguson waits on grand jury

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Thief suspect falls through ceiling, leaves phone

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

1 killed, dozens injured in California bus crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 4 Comments

 
San Jose police arrest man after airport chase

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Surfer missing off beach south of San Francisco

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
US tells Iran to consider nuclear talks extension

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Damage worse than thought in Japanese earthquake

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Joey Chestnut devours turkey to win eating contest

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Strong quake in west China kills 5; 54 hurt

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Boy with fake gun dies after shot by Ohio officer

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 5 Comments

Israeli Cabinet moves to define Israel as Jewish

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Former DC Mayor Marion Barry dies at 78

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Islamic State group recruits, exploits children

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Giffords rides in Tucson cycling event

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Suicide bomber kills at least 45 Afghans

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Some 30 horses die in stable fire outside Chicago

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Crew blasts off for International Space Station

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Health care M&A leads global deal surge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

.

Living

Community Calendar: Nov. 24, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Nov. 24, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Horoscopes: Nov. 25, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

My sister-in-law expects me to pay her for damages, but she won’t pay me

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A7

 
Horoscopes: Nov. 24, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

.

Entertainment

List of winners of the American Music Awards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
1D, Katy Perry win big at American Music Awards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

‘Mockingjay, Part 1′ opens with $123 million

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
TVGrid Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

TVGrid Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
.

Sports

 
Speights scores 28 as Warriors hold off Thunder

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Hyde scores go-ahead TD, lifts 49ers past Redskins

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Federer leads Swiss past France for Davis Cup

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Hamilton answers Rosberg in style to clinch title

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Revs win 2-1 at Red Bulls in East final 1st leg

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Sarvas puts Galaxy past Seattle 1-0 in West opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
First lady attends Princeton women’s hoops game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Stacy Lewis sweeps 3 biggest LPGA awards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
UCLA honors Robinson, retires No. 42 for all teams

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Katy Perry to perform at Super Bowl halftime show

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
NFL roundup: Seahawks roll past Cardinals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Athletics acquire 1B Ike Davis from Pirates

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Leslie “Esi” Gros

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Jack I. Johnson

By Glen Faison | From Page: A4

Dorothy Pouge Arnold

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Arthur Irving Weiner

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

.

Comics

Rose is Rose Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Peanuts Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baldo Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Wizard of Id Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Dilbert Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Bridge Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sudoku Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword Nov 25

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Get Fuzzy Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Zits Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
For Better or Worse Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Blondie Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
B.C. Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Garfield Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Baby Blues Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Dilbert Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Rose is Rose Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Frank and Ernest Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Peanuts Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Beetle Bailey Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Pickles Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Wizard of Id Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Sally Forth Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baldo Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Bridge Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Sudoku Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Cryptoquote Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Word Sleuth Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Crossword Nov 24

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7