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Talking points: Budget, district elections, council critique

Tom Maher is challenging incumbent Bard Hawn for the Modesto City Council Chair 6.

Robert Farrace, Dave Lopez, Brent Maynor and Robert Stanford are competing to succeed outgoing Chair 1 Councilman Bob Dunbar.

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Q: Modesto is in a tight financial bind this year and is looking at budget cuts. Where would you like to trim spending to balance the budget?

HAWN: There's always places to cut. In order to maintain the services we have at this level, it's going to be difficult to cut. We're going back to the parks, back to not having enough people to do the work. We haven't really begun to forecast what that means for the city. Right now, I don't see a lot of places to cut.

MAHER: I'd have to go over the budget and I'd have to see if there's any duplication in employment or salaries. The only thing I could do is look at it and try to cut back. You count items that might have been over-budgeted. It's kind of hard to say until you get elected.

FERRACE: It's an excellent start to ask city department heads to evaluate that issue if you can get an honest assessment from them. I would rather not see police and fire as the first place cut. I know it's routine as part of the budget to freeze hiring or to let positions go through attrition. ... When you lose someone to retirement, you're usually losing a very senior person. That could have a big impact.

LOPEZ: Look at the overtime in every department of the city. Look at middle management. Unfortunately, there's some middle management that can be thinned out a little now. I'd have to look at each department and see where the cuts can be made. I don't want to see cuts to services for the citizens.

MAYNOR: I'd have to look at it. I'd cut the programs that are failing and not up to par first. You set goals for the programs and if they're not meeting the goals, it's a failing program. I'm not sure what programs are like that.

STANFORD: My approach to things like that is, start with energy usage, paper usage, recycling. ... A lot of it has to do with attitudes and conscientiousness. I wonder how many proposals are sent out, how many bids are collected and if it comes down to which bidder filled out a form in triplicate. Then it's not even coming down to money.

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Q: Would you support new taxes for police, fire or roads?

HAWN: I would say yes, I do. The state has abandoned the local governments and not provided the funding the local governments need to function. As much as I hate raising taxes, if we do roads, police and fire, at least we'll see the results of it and not send it to Sacramento and get some small, paltry percentage of it.

MAHER: I'm not one to really say I want to raise taxes because I think we're taxed enough. But I'd be in favor of a half-cent sales tax. Right now, the Police Department, as far as I know, they're spread pretty thin, even though they're doing a fantastic job.

FARRACE: I'm generally averse to new taxes up front unless you can implement some of the programs that have been successful in the past. I favor sunset provisions where the tax is going to be for a limited time. I'd like to start with just fixing roads that exist rather than funding a whole new transportation system. You can do it in more than one step.

LOPEZ: I've been a longtime opponent of the road taxes because I felt the citizens of Modesto just are paying too much as is. ... When I'm in office, I'm going to propose a half-cent sales tax with a sunset in six years so voters can see what we can do with that half cent. Then, in six years, I'll be able to go back to the voters and say, "This is what we've done. Is this something you want?"

MAYNOR: It would be the easiest way to go about funding. If it was a small sales tax measure, I'd vote for it. People wouldn't notice it.

STANFORD: Read my lips, 'No new taxes.' I'm hesitant for taxes without trying to see if there's other places we can cut. There's a lot of grant money at the federal level to support my ideas to fortify the Police Department.

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Q: How is the current City Council doing?

HAWN: I think it's doing fine. I think we work well together and certainly there wasn't the contention that was there when I first started in office. We're working in a businesslike fashion and getting things done.

MAHER: Everybody goes along with everything. You don't hear a lot about them anymore. It's not like when (former Mayor Carmen) Sabatino was there. It seems to be very structured. (Mayor Jim) Ridenour has been doing a very good job of keeping things under control. I'm not really in favor of his three-minute rule.

FARRACE: I give them a lot of credit for addressing the difficult issues of replacing sewers and replacing infrastructure, meeting it head-on and doing it. They've done a good job operating in a difficult financial environment.

LOPEZ: I think they're doing well. They get along real well, so they've shared some successes, which makes them want to go to the community and do more.

MAYNOR: They're doing a pretty fair job. Things are pretty good. They're starting to get the county islands up to date, and they've mandated 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents instead of (the current standard of) 1.3 for every thousand people. We just have to get funding for it.

STANFORD: Historically, it's the best we've ever had. It's No. 1 for diversity and equity. I've come to learn they actually do care for every citizen of Modesto.

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Q: Is it time for Modesto to adopt district elections?

HAWN: Yes, we're going to find out what the people want.

MAHER: I'm for district elections. It's going to cut back on the spending for candidates. Instead of going for the city, you only have to go for your district. Also, they can represent their districts.

FARRACE: Yes, that's the answer.

I don't live in the airport neighborhood and I don't live in south Modesto. It certainly would be nice for these people to have a direct say in who represents them. You don't want deal-making to be the standard. The city still needs to be governed by what will best serve the city.

LOPEZ: District elections are a bad idea. District elections are a recipe for corruption. High school rivalries are better left for children. It's about bringing our community together, not separating it. I think the silent majority is going to keep the status quo. In my experience knocking on doors, they don't want district elections. They don't want one person to represent them instead of the full council.

MAYNOR: That might work better. It's going to have people that live in those areas who would know what problems to address.

STANFORD: I was for district elections but now that I've started my first political campaign, a lot of the reasons for why I supported district elections have fallen by the wayside. It was the idea of a poor man knocking on doors. It turns out you don't do as much of that. You get support and groups get behind your banner. I also believe it will be voted down.

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