Everyone agrees that Modesto wants a safe and lively downtown. But the city will soon renew a downtown debate: Who should pay for the police presence that keeps downtown safe?
The Police Department is on track to spend at least $225,000 in overtime stationing officers downtown on weekends this year. That's a big drop from 2007, when Modesto spent $495,000 in overtime.
But the six-figure overtime bill doesn't sit well with city leaders, who need to carve at least $8 million from budgets this year to keep spending in line with revenue.
"We've got to look somewhere for that money," City Manager Greg Nyhoff said at Monday night's meeting of the City Council's Safety and Communities Committee.
The three-member committee heard an update on downtown police activity and looked at ways to defray costs, but took no action on the issue. The full council likely will take up the question as Modesto maps out its spending plans for the budget year starting July 1.
The city keeps two full-time officers assigned to downtown Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In addition, four officers and one sergeant work downtown on weekend nights on an overtime basis.
The city could ask downtown business owners to help foot the bill for some of those costs.
Options on the table:
— Adding a "security fee" to door charges at clubs.
— Raising the cost of drinks. Downtown bars don't like that idea, because it would force them to charge higher prices than bars outside downtown, said police Lt. Andy Schlenker.
— Making establishments pay a share of the police costs based on how many people a venue can hold. For example, a club that can hold up to 400 people attracts about 10 percent of downtown patrons, so that club would pay 10 percent of the police costs.
Councilman Garrad Marsh said he wants to know how much revenue downtown businesses bring in in sales tax and parking before the city makes a decision on charging those businesses for police services.
Fat Cat general manager Chris Ricci told the committee he pays for some police presence.
When the Fat Cat plays host to a band that might attract a rowdy crowd, Ricci asks police for extra coverage and pays for it.
Ricci said he's spent $1,200 over the past 60 days on such policing, and he's budgeted $600 to $1,200 per month for the next year.
"I think right now we're at the minimum level of enforcement we can have and be safe," Ricci said.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378. Follow her at .