Looming budget cuts mean Modesto residents are about to see fewer services for their tax dollars.
Reductions in the number of police officers, firefighters and park services are on the table this week as the City Council begins looking for more than $14 million to protect a reserve in Modesto's $135 million general fund.
Modesto is not considering layoffs, but a hiring freeze could claim 25 police officer and 17 firefighter positions through attrition.
Those jobs are encompassed in a plan to trim about 80 positions from the 870 employees Modesto pays through its general fund.
"The amount of money that needs to be reduced is so significant that I don't know how any of us can escape participating in it," Fire Chief Jim Miguel said.
"Looking at the whole picture, it can be pretty ominous if we don't do something now."
Modesto is revising its budget, which was adopted in June, to reflect a stream of dour financial news from its sales tax consultants and a continuing downturn in the housing market.
It's up to the City Council whether or not to adopt the changes, and its members could do so by December. Its Finance Committee is expected to consider the reductions at a Tuesday meeting.
Miguel and Police Chief Roy Wasden said the proposed cuts likely would lead to a noticeable reduction in some resources.
"Obviously, it affects our ability to respond to calls for service," said Wasden, whose ranks could diminish from 283 sworn officers to about 260.
"We'll do everything to get there when people call, but it just has that net effect."
City Manager George Britton put a hiring freeze in place three months ago and asked Modesto executives to find ways to cut their budgets by 7 percent.
Those proposals will appear before the Finance Committee.
Cutting the number of firefighters assigned to emergency trucks from four to three, which eliminates nine positions. Staffing on engines will remain unchanged.
Trimming the overtime budget for police, which could lead to fewer downtown patrols.
Shutting a pool at Whitmore Park in central Modesto.
Postponing the purchase of a new fire engine and holding off on repairs to Fire Station 1 downtown.
Freezing nine police support positions in addition to carrying 25 officer vacancies.
Delaying parks projects, such as a study of the McHenry Mansion's crumbling foundation and planning work required for the city to destroy the defunct Dennett Dam on the Tuolumne River.
Cost of cable, benefits for city retirees are eyed
Cable bills could increase, too, if the council collects a 5 percent franchise fee from Comcast instead of 3 percent. That adjustment could bring in about $750,000 a year.
Modesto is entitled to collect the higher rate in its agreement with the company.
Other reductions in city spending might be in its insurance program and its retiree benefits.
Modesto last faced budget cuts in 2004, which led to extended reductions in its tree maintenance program and other services.
Cutbacks such as those were discussed earlier this year after a survey of employee morale. Some city workers felt overworked and many believed they were underpaid.
"It's going to be a huge challenge," Britton said. "You can't have 80 vacancies and assume the work isn't going to be re-spread."
Modesto's budget recovered in 2005 and 2006 because the city benefited from a housing boom that raised its property taxes, construction- related revenue and retail spending that contributed to greater sales tax receipts.
As a result, the council started filling some of its vacancies and allocating money for neglected projects, such as road repairs.
But the outlook started to worsen in March and April when revenues began to decline.
Since then, Finance Director Wayne Padilla has refined the city's budget picture to reflect continuing shortfalls.
Last month, a sales tax consultant advised the city to trim its revenue projections by $1.2 million. This month, Padilla cut another $1 million in expected revenue linked to property transfers.
He and Britton plan to present three levels of budget cuts Tuesday to give the council choices for its priorities. They will include cuts Britton supports and cuts he doesn't recommend.
Padilla said the city's outlook could improve in 2009, though budget cuts could continue through next year.
"This isn't going to be a continuing down market, but no one has any handle on when it's going to turn," Padilla said.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.