Modesto News

Modesto News blog: City Council takes steps toward $1M in budget cuts

kvaline@modbee.comJanuary 30, 2014 

— Modesto officials took their first public steps toward downsizing in the wake of city voters not approving Measure X, a 1 percent sales tax on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The City Council’s Finance Committee recommended about $1 million in cuts Monday in the current budget, which ends June 30. The recommendations are expected to go before the full council in February.

City officials say they will need to cut about $9 million from the general fund, which primarily pays for police and fire services, over the next 30 months to bring the fund’s expenses in line with its revenues. The general fund makes up about a third of the city’s roughly $344 million operating budget. The operating budget’s other funds are in better shape.

Nearly all of the cuts in the current budget would be in public safety. The Finance Committee recommends cutting about $500,000 from the Police Department by eliminating 10 vacant officer positions. That would save about $1 million over a full budget year. If adopted by the council, it would reduce the number of allocated officer positions from about 230 to about 220.

Finance also is recommending cutting $500,000 from the Modesto Regional Fire Authority in the city’s current budget. That reduction would be $1 million over a full budget year if adopted by the council.

The other recommended budget cuts amount to reductions of roughly $100,000 in the budgets for the City Council and human resources and finance departments. City officials say they have made significant cuts outside public safety over several years. Additionally, public safety accounts for about 80 percent of the city’s general fund spending.

In the coming months, the Finance Committee will consider other cuts to bring before the City Council. The city will not have to adopt all of the cuts to balance its general fund. Potential reductions include:

• Closing or selling Centre Plaza, the downtown convention center. The center requires an annual general fund subsidy of more than $500,000 to balance its roughly $1.4 million budget.

• Closing or selling Dryden, one of two 18-hole golf courses the city owns.

• Selling so-called nonconforming city parks: those not attached to a community center or next to a school. The city is looking into whether homeowners near the parks would be willing to tax themselves to pay the costs to operate them. If that is not viable, the city is looking at selling the parks to developers for housing.

• Eliminating general fund support for the city’s community forestry program, whose workers trim and maintain city trees. The general fund provides about half of the program’s roughly $2.6 million budget.

• Reducing what the city spends for the operation of the McHenry Mansion and McHenry Museum.

•  Cutting an additional $1 million from the Police Department’s budget in a future budget year.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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