The Modesto City Council on Tuesday approved a $340 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a $4 million cut to public safety and will mean fewer police officers and firefighters and the closure of one fire station.
Mayor Garrad Marsh said it was a difficult but necessary budget and the first time in at least a dozen years that the city would be living within its means. The 2014-15 budget approved by the council starts July 1.
Most of the focus on the operating budget has been centered on its $107 million general fund. That’s because police and fire services consume more than 70 percent of the fund’s budget. General fund revenues dropped sharply during the recession, resulting in cuts to city services, including public safety.
Though general fund revenues have started to grow, city officials say they are not growing as fast as expenses. The operating budget’s other main funds – water and wastewater – are in better shape in part because they are funded by ratepayers.
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The city has balanced previous general fund budgets through spending cuts and borrowing from other funds. But officials say the city no longer can afford to do that. City officials had counted on Measure X passing in November to help the general fund.
Measure X was a 1 percent sales tax that was expected to bring in $26 million annually for the general fund over its six-year life. City officials said they intended to spend half of the tax on public safety and the rest on parks and recreation, streets and other purposes.
The council voted 7-0 to approve the operating budget, though council members Tony Madrigal, Jenny Kenoyer and Bill Zoslocki asked that the city direct more spending to public safety as it becomes available. Marsh said the city intends to do so.
Modesto Regional Fire Authority Chief Sean Slamon has said Fire Station No. 6 by Vintage Faire Mall will close. He has said he hopes to keep the station open through the July Fourth holiday and then close it a day or two after.
The city also is looking at closing a second fire station, but Slamon has said that can be avoided if the council approves revenue measures he expects to bring to them in July.
The operating budget funds 209 police officer positions and 129 firefighter positions, which are among the lowest allocations in more than 20 years.
The council voted 7-0 to approve the roughly $560 million capital improvement projects budget for 2014-15. This budget includes multiyear projects, such as replacing the Highway 99-Pelandale Avenue interchange.
City officials said the funding for capital improvement projects comes from sources such as grants, loans and development fees and cannot be used for other purposes, such as hiring police officers.
The council also voted, 6-1, to approve a citywide reorganization that will take place in the 2014-15 fiscal year. City officials say the reorganization will save the city $1.1 million.
It involves such steps as merging Public Works’ water and wastewater divisions with the Utility Planning and Projects Department into a Utilities Department and combining Information Technology and Human Resources into an Administrative Services Department.
Councilman Dave Lopez voted against the reorganization because some managers would be receiving raises while the city is cutting spending and services.
Interim City Manager Jim Holgersson said that’s because these managers would be taking on more responsibilities, and Human Resources Director Joe Lopez estimated the raises would cost the city less than $50,000.