MODESTO -- QUESTION: There probably wonít be any more money in the Modesto city budget for police and fire next year. What will you do with existing resources to improve public safety?
I think itís a matter of working with the Police Department and refocusing, if you will. Some of the police officers Iíve talked with say the gang task force is typically finished by 8 p.m. To me thatís a mistake, because most gang activity takes place later in the evening.
I like the idea of the gang injunction. I think thereís a lot of potential there. From the research Iíve seen, itís worked well in other cities like Fresno. Iíd like to see about expanding that into other areas.
We also have to start putting more of an emphasis of working with the young kids in our community. Weíre not going to see our long-term crime rates drop if we donít put more effort into working with young minds. Iíd like to see police involved with that.
Part of what I think we need to do is working closely with the Police Department to prioritize the functions within the department. I know (Police Chief Mike) Harden is working on that already. The police department has a patrol unit, a traffic unit, a gang unit, several units all working within the department. We need to prioritize those services so that the police department is able to be as responsive as possible to the citizenry, and also make strides toward fighting crime and curbing drug and gang violence.
During the budgeting process, we need to be mindful of emphasizing core services as the top priority for budget funding, and public safety is the top priority in my mind. (Another) element would be continuing to focus on partnerships and how the city can work with the county, as well as businesses, churches and nonprofits to find a holistic approach to public safety.
In making the most of existing resources, we have to use alternative methods for making our city safer. For example, with the La Loma Neighborhood Association neighborhood ownership model and private security patrol, we have an opportunity. It goes beyond just police and fire, itís that neighborhoods are well lit, that Neighborhood Watch is happening, and that neighbors are keeping an eye out for each other. We have an effective model for this in the La Loma neighborhood that weíve applied for several years now thatís perfect for times like these.
Until I get a full grasp and understanding of the budget, itís premature to determine what can be done. Weíve got to make our case loud and clear to the federal and state government to get grants. As the economy continues to worsen, I believe that crime will go up. Iíll do all that I can to make sure that police and fire are the last to be cut.
The very first thing I would do is, I think The Police Department needs an overhaul. I believe their methods and their management is out of control. Iíd probably start with chain of command. I donít like to see a sergeant or lieutenant for every three street officers. That seems like overkill. I would look at how they prioritize calls, how many squad cars they send to each call. They send three cars for a jaywalker, I see it all the time. Somethingís wrong there. Iíd take a real good look at the gang task force and the Modesto Police Departmentís relationship with the sheriffís department and see what I could do to promote that relationship becoming a little more productive.
Iíll do whatever I can to maintain as many officers on the street as possible, and recommend cutting back at staff levels before I cut back on officers available to the public for their safety in the district.
Iíd do my best to encourage civic organizations to pick up the slack as much as possible, to encourage Neighborhood Watch programs and Crime Stoppers. Without the resources at the city level, you just have to enlist the assistance of the public and organizations like Crime Stoppers and Neighborhood Watch and do the best we can at that level. I definitely want to maintain the level of officers and patrol cars as much as we can. Knowing that weíre below 1.85 officers per 1,000 residents, weíre nowhere near that. So whatever can be done to not make it less than it already is, I would as a City Councilman try to maintain at least that level and look for funding sources that can maintain it.
District 2 candidate Al Nava did not respond to requests for an interview.
QUESTION: The city has already cut almost 10 percent of its work force this year, and the budget isnít likely to improve in the year ahead. Where would you cut next? If the budget improves, what would you fund?
The first thing we need to do is for current council members who are receiving the new salary, we need to do a 25 percent rollback for everybody. In the long-term itís not a whole lot of money but it will save taxpayers thousands of dollars that could be used for other programs, like keeping parks open, and the Weed and Seed program.
It is tough and the council had to make some real sacrifices. I guess the next step is that we have to make sure weíre spending our funds wisely. A few weeks ago the council was talking about spending $25,000 to hire an outside consultant. We just have to be smarter about how we manage our resources. I think it would show great leadership if (council members) took that salary rollback.
In a perfect world, if things improved, Iíd like to hire some more police officers and utilize those officers for essential safety programs, especially the gang unit.
If we could afford to stop browning out a fire department, that would be number two. If we canít as a city protect our citizens, then weíre not doing our job. In addition to that, if we could find the funds to put into Leisure Bucks and recreation programs to get kids involved and make them productive, civic-minded citizens, in the long-term and short-term, thatís whatís going to make a difference in our crime rate.
I think itís too early to say where I would cut next. If the state comes back to Modesto and says you have to give us more money, if at the end of the day we have no other choice than to cut more, at that time weíll have to look at all of the departments, line item by line item, to look for any potential efficiencies. Public safety would not be the first place I would go.
Parks and recreation is a great example of new partnerships and new ideas that have arisen as a result of this fiscal crisis. Some of those outcomes have yet to be realized.
(If more funds become available) the first place I would go would be to hire more police officers. Thereís not a question in my mind. Iím fully committed to improving the staffing in the Police Department to promote more officers on the street and enhance our efforts in combatting drug and gang violence.
Another place where I think there may be some potential for savings is in the cityís insurance programs. In health insurance, workers compensation and long-term disability.
The answer to this is weíre just going to go have to go line by line through the budget. Weíve cut in the easy places, and the cuts weíre going to have to make now are harder and more painful. Itís a matter of going through the budgets line by line and finding those cuts.
If there are additional funds, they need to be applied in public safety. Our number one priority is keeping the city safe and thatís where Iíll apply the funds first. Itís not simply about funding more positions, although that may well be a part of it. Itís also about funding initiatives and neighborhood programs that increase public safety.
This question has come up several times with voters. It really is on everybodyís mind. My answer is, Modesto has never gone through cuts like weíve been through. I want to make sure the cuts weíve made arenít going to set us up for further liability down the road. With your family budget, you can put off some expenses for a while, like not getting your carís oil changed, but if you do that for too long, youíre setting yourself up for liabilities. I want to work with the existing council to see the reason for the cuts they made, and to see if theyíre going to allow us to have efficiencies, or if theyíre going to set us up for liabilities.
If things do improve, the first thing I want to do is get the Police Department back to its full staffing.
(I would considers cuts in) code enforcement. Not big cuts, but I would be looking very strongly at code enforcement. I would really look at some of the duties these departments perform and try to shore up their duties. Going around all day and looking at dogs to see if they have tags? Thatís a good example. I see a lot of waste in how money is spent. I would look at Parks and Recreation and see what theyíre doing and see if theyíre really doing what they say theyíre doing. I would look at public works and see if weíre getting our moneyís worth.
But before I make cuts I would be trying to cut waste first - and see if thereís any way work could be performed more efficiently. And of course I would get consensus from other council members before making cuts.
I believe thereís a way to free up other money. That bus maintenance facility, thatís a good example. Thereís money, especially (on the consent agenda). If I had the time I would add up previous consent calendars and show where weíve spent millions of dollars that we donít even know about.
(If funding become available) I would fund public safety number one, fire number two, then I would fund parks and recreation and code enforcement. But before I funded anything, I would make sure that efficiencies were in place. I would be able to show the general public so that they could understand, ďLook, this is how your tax dollars are spent.Ē If we get flush with cash, Iím not going to say, OK time for a new strategy. Iím going to shore up parks and rec and the police department to see how they spend their money and how they respond to calls, because it effects more than money, it affects quality of life.
Well, there has been some success in cutting at the Parks and Recreation Department where the public has stepped in and picked up the slack. Although I hate to (make cuts in Parks and Recreation) because the public, and the public in District 2, depends on the parks department for their recreation. They donít have the disposable income to go out of town, so they depend on the parks department, so itís a very reluctant cut.
I would ask the maintenance department to come up with ways to postpone maintenance without destroying the fleet. Maintaining the trees we have, but not planting anymore. That would save quite a bit of money.
I suppose there could be another five percent staff cut, not replacing people who retire or resign, leaving positions open, and as a last resort, layoffs. Whether that could be done and maintain the modicum of public services thatís absolutely necessary, thatís a question I canít answer. You canít get blood out of a stone and the budget situation is horrible. Itís probably one of the reasons so few candidates threw their hat in the ring.
As much as I hate to say it, we could possibly cut back on graffiti abatement and implore homeowners and business owners to get paint from the city at a discount if possible. Thereís going to have to be a lot of work donated by the public ó thatís all there is to it ó to maintain a quality of life that people will endure and accept. It sounds awfully austere, but I think thatís the kind of thing we may be looking at.
(If more funds become available) I would first fund the neglected infrastructure in the second district. I want what the second district hasnít had for much too long ó thatís infrastructure improvements and sidewalks and streets and just amenities for District 2. The county has spent tens of millions of dollars on the sheriffís headquarters and the welfare building. I think too much money was spent on them, to the point where infrastructure needs in many parts of the city, especially District 2, have been neglected. I defy anyone to argue with me on that.
District 2 candidate Al Nava did not respond to requests for an interview.