Modesto officials face some tough choices – including cutting $1 million each from the police and fire budgets – when they begin deliberations in May for the upcoming budget year, which starts July 1. The proposed public safety reductions are among roughly $6.9 million the city needs to cut or return to the general fund in order to bring its expenses in line with revenues. The general fund makes up about a third of the city’s roughly $344 million operating budget.
The general fund gets most of the attention because about two-thirds of it is spent on public safety. Officials still are working out the details of Modesto’s 2014-15 budget, but here’s what they are considering for the general fund:
• Modesto recently cut about $500,000 each from the police and fire budgets in the current budget; those cuts amount to $1 million each in the new budget. Adding those cuts to the proposed additional police and fire cuts of $1 million each brings total public safety cuts to $4 million in the new budget.
• Modesto is considering fully funding its community forestry budget through the green waste fees it charges consumers on their garbage bills. (Forestry maintains the city’s trees.) The proposal requires raising the green waste fees a bit. For instance, residential users would see their garbage bills increase from $27.34 to $29 per month. But that lets the city return $1.3 million to the general fund that now is in the forestry budget. That would bring the general fund up to $5.3 million of the $6.9 million it needs for a balanced budget.
• Modesto would get to $6.9 million by returning $1.6 million to the general fund that now pays for fixing streets, sidewalks and streetlights. But the surface transportation fund – which is primarily funded by gas taxes – would not be out the whole $1.6 million. The forestry proposal includes returning $850,000 in gas taxes to the surface transportation fund.
This is pretty complicated. But the implications are a further reduction in public safety. The Police Department and the Modesto Regional Fire Authority have eliminated and will continue to eliminate vacant positions because of budget cuts. For the police, that means reducing the number of allocated officers from 229 to 209. The fire authority also has cut overtime spending.
This is part of the fallout of Measure X, the 1 percent sales tax that voters rejected in the November election. The tax was expected to bolster the general fund. Modesto has balanced the fund in recent years through budget cuts, using reserves and borrowing from other accounts. But city officials say they can no longer afford to use reserves and borrow from other accounts.
The City Council’s finance committee will hold budget hearings May 7-9 in the council chambers. The first will start at 5 p.m. The others will be held during the day. The council will hold two hearings in June and is expected to adopt the budget at its last hearing.