Ceres council candidates hope for status quo until economy picks up

October 7, 2009 

Ceres City Council candidates Michael Kline, top left, Ken Lane, top right, Chris Vierra, bottom left.

Ceres City Council candidates Michael Kline, top left, Ken Lane, top right, Chris Vierra, bottom left.

(THE MODESTO BEE)

  • Ceres City Council

    • CANDIDATE: Michael Kline
    • AGE: 51
    • CAREER: Account manager, Tony's Fine Foods
    • EDUCATION: Ceres High School
    • FAMILY: Married, three children
    • PRIORITY: Public safety

    •  •  •

    • CANDIDATE: Ken Lane
    • AGE: 49
    • CAREER: Mo-Cal Office Solutions, outside sales
    • EDUCATION: Ceres High School
    • FAMILY: Married, three children
    • PRIORITY: Public safety

    •  •  •

    • CANDIDATE: Chris Vierra
    • AGE: 43
    • CAREER: Managing principal of Stantec Consulting, a development consulting service
    • EDUCATION: Associate degree, Modesto Junior College; bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
    • FAMILY: Married, two children
    • PRIORITY: Public safety

CERES — Political candidates rarely pronounce that they want to maintain the status quo.

But, in a bad economy, maintaining the same level of city services is often deemed an accomplishment, and it's what the candidates are talking about in the Ceres City Council race.

"Police and fire service is important to maintain because the crime element seems to go up in a tough economy," said Ken Lane, a councilman seeking a second four-year term.

Also vying for the two council seats are incumbent Chris Vierra and challenger Michael Kline.

The Ceres council made severe cuts this year to balance the 2009-10 budget, eliminating the jobs of department heads and midmanagement employees while preserving police officers and firefighters.

Council members will make more tough decisions to reduce spending by an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Lane, first elected in 2005, said some budget cuts this year targeted departments where the workload has fallen off, such as city planning. He said employee unions will need to cooperate to balance the budget next year.

Lane said he is seeking re-election because of unfinished business. The city needs to push forward with water system improvements and an arrangement with Modesto for treating waste-water, he said.

"Some of our waste-water is sent to Turlock (for treatment) and we are tied to whatever rates they set," Lane said. "The state wants us to regionalize sewer service, and we have two councils (in Ceres and Modesto) that are willing to look at that."

Vierra was appointed to the council in 2003 and elected for the first time in 2005. He said the budget will continue to be a challenge because of the state taking revenue from cities and the decline in property taxes.

"We are looking at all options," he said. "We have to look at the way we provide city services and see if there are ways to improve efficiencies."

Vierra said the city has accomplished a great deal in the past six years. For example, it opened a long-planned community center in June. Traffic flow in Ceres should improve with the Whitmore Avenue-Highway 99 overpass project, he said.

The city needs to complete a revitalization plan for downtown, he said, so projects are ready to go when the economy picks up.

"The community center is a strength for the downtown," Vierra said. "We need to rezone certain areas to create business opportunities, to help locate things like movie theaters and promote a walkable, liveable downtown."

Vierra is one of five city representatives serving on the eight-county San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board and is the board's current chairman.

As a civil engineer, Vierra said, he understands the city's infrastructure needs.

Kline fell 150 votes short of winning a council seat in 2007. He is running on a platform of curbing unnecessary spending. The city spends too much money on consultants, he said.

"Right now, they are spending money on a consultant to come out and let people know that water meters are coming to their neighborhoods," he said, noting the information already was provided in newspapers and city water bills.

Kline, who serves on the Planning Commission, said he wants to get more people involved in city government. On average, two or three members of the public attend council meetings, he said. To keep the public informed, upcoming council agenda items could be included in utility bills, he suggested.

Kline said the downtown needs to be revitalized, but the city needs to get more support from merchants. He also vowed to bring an independent voice to city government.

"I am a new, fresh voice," he said. "I have my opinion and I am not afraid to share it. I care deeply about the city of Ceres."

Waiting for Wal-Mart study

All three candidates said they are waiting for environmental studies before deciding whether to support a 195,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, which would anchor a retail center at Mitchell and Service roads.

Vierra and Lane want to see an analysis of how the giant outlet would affect local businesses. The project could go before city planners and the council early next year.

"I definitely want to see what impacts it would have on the grocery industry," Vierra said. "There are many unanswered questions."

Lane remarked: "I don't know if I will vote for or against it. It depends on what impact it will have."

Kline is concerned about traffic congestion at key intersections on Mitchell Road. "The busiest intersection in Ceres is Hatch and Mitchell roads," he said. "You should look at the traffic on Mitchell during busy times when the canneries are running."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

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