Modesto is not Stockton or Atwater, in or near the brink of bankruptcy.
It has not made radical slashes to most departments. What's happened instead: A gradual erosion of essential services that residents are starting to feel daily.
The deterioration is evident in several discussions before the City Council this fall. Consider:
DYING TREES: Tuesday night the full council will be asked to restore one permanent tree- trimming crew and to use overtime and part-time staff to stem the heavy infestations of mistletoe that threaten to kill trees in 13 of the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
As we said two weeks ago, we support these expenditures, which are possible as a result of concessions by employee groups. The council's three-member Finance Committee unanimously recommended the plan.
DETERIORATING STREETS: Last Tuesday, the council heard a report from its public works staff on the state of the city streets. And the state isn't very good.
The city maintains lanes of street totaling 1,400 miles. And much of it is getting worse. The department is proposing a three-stage strategy of better maintenance, resurfacing and then transition replacement for streets that are so cracked and pitted that patches and crack fills and slurry treatments won't work.
What will come back from another discussion at a later meeting: How to pay for all this.
A couple of things are already evident: It's less expensive to maintain and resurface than it is to totally rebuild the street.
And, as staff pointed out, streets are the city's biggest asset, with a value of $1 billion.
RISING CRIME: On Dec. 7, Mayor Garrad Marsh is convening a meeting to talk about how to beef up police staff levels in the city, especially in the face of rising burglary rates and other crime problems.
Just like the discussion on streets, this conversation will revolve around deteriorating quality, need for improvement and the cost. It very likely will lead to a proposal for higher taxes, perhaps a sales tax earmarked for public safety. Both Ceres and Oakdale have such taxes.
What do these three areas have in common? They all are paid for largely out of the general fund, which is susceptible to the ups and downs of sales tax and property tax revenue, along with money from the state.
In two other key service areas water and sewer Modesto is in good shape because it has long-term improvement projects under way and because the council had the foresight and courage to raise rates along the way. Contrast that with Atwater, which refused to raise water rates and now has a multimillion-dollar deficit.
We applaud Marsh and the city manager for their big-picture approach to these key areas, rather than just reacting to spot problems, as so many organizations public and private do.
There will be two challenges: First, to engage citizens in the discussion, because they're also prone to responding to individual proposals such as a controversial shopping center but not to weighing in on the long-term direction and priorities.
And second, of course, how to pay for the services to make Modesto the community we want it to be. Typically, that's the point when people are eager to join the discussion.