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Some suggest raising taxes, federal grants to help police department

Candidates running for two City Council seats this fall have a couple of things in common with Modesto's budget -- cops and firefighters.

Public safety consumes 70 percent of Modesto's $127 million general fund. It's one of the most visible services the city provides to residents.

So it's no surprise that this fall's council candidates want to find ways to bolster Modesto's public safety ranks in a time of tightening budgets.

Their ideas include looking at sales tax increases, offering incentives to keep Modesto officers from changing jobs, or prioritizing certain crimes for crackdowns.

The field is relatively thin compared with the city's previous three elections.

Mayor Jim Ridenour and Councilman Garrad Marsh face no challengers in their re-election bids.

Councilman Brad Hawn is defending his Chair 6 against taxpayer advocate Tom Maher.

Four men are running for Chair 1 to replace outgoing Councilman Bob Dunbar, who is not seeking re-election.

The candidates vying to succeed him are attorney Robert Farrace, business account executive Dave Lopez, electrician Brent Maynor and airport neighborhood activist Robert Stanford.

Concerns about public safety are rising to the forefront of their election pitches even as the Police Department seeks to cut its overtime spending and trim 7 percent of its $59 million budget.

With an eye on those budget demands, Hawn said it's time for Modesto to consider a way for the city to raise more revenue to pay for better public safety services, such as a sales tax increment.

Maher, his opponent, spent two decades challenging the council's spending decisions as a taxpayer watchdog. But like Hawn, Maher said he's open to raising taxes to pay for those services.

Farrace wants to find ways to retain police officers. Some starter ideas include offering them incentives with partially forgivable home loans, a measure gaining popularity in other nearby cities.

Lopez said he would ask the Police Department to focus even more of its resources on gangs, perhaps by zeroing in on young members. He said disrupting gangs could offer opportunities for young offenders to reform their lives.

Maynor ranks maintaining public safety as his top goal. He said he would cut other city services before taking a scalpel to the police and fire departments.

Stanford, a onetime police protester, said it's imperative for Modesto to show a zero tolerance attitude toward gangs and drugs.

Here's a look at the six candidates in the contested races and their broader goals.

* Hawn, 52, is an engineer who doesn't describe himself as a politician, even though he was a top fund-raiser in the 2003 elections.

"I love Modesto," he said. "We've done some good, and I want to continue doing it."

His focus in his first term cen- tered on leading the council's Finance Committee, which assessed plans to shore up Modesto's sewer and water systems with hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements.

The drinking water plans opened the council to criticism because of costly errors in the methods the city used to set new rates to pay for the improvements.

Nonetheless, Hawn and his colleagues describe their effort as essential to securing Modesto's basic services.

"Water and sewer aren't very glamorous, but it's part of who we are and part of coming together as a city," he said.

Hawn is one of the council's main arts supporters. He organizes the annual Art and Wine Festival, and speaks up for downtown improvements.

If elected to another four years, Hawn wants to regionalize municipal services, such as waste-water treatment. That can be done at Modesto's sewage treatment plant on the west side, for example.

"It's about providing the best service at the best price," he said.

* Maher, 72, twice ran unsuccessfully for council seats after he started following city government in the 1980s.

He said he has more time to run an effective campaign this year, and he's pledging to give straight answers if he's elected.

"I want to work with the taxpayer, the people on fixed incomes," said Maher, who has held leadership positions in the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association and the county Republican Party.

His priorities include promoting industrial development to lure more jobs to the city.

"We've got the people here, the people who are commuting back and forth. If we can help them, we won't have the smog, the traffic congestion," he said.

Maher, a retired independent businessman and carpet company manager, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in 1992. He said it resulted from a mix of personal and business liabilities.

He served in the Korean War as a Marine, and said he would advocate for veterans' concerns.

* Farrace, 43, lists supporting public safety, fixing roads, beautifying Modesto and ensuring controlled growth as his top priorities.

Funding those objectives could prove difficult in a time of diminishing sales tax revenues, but Farrace said he'd look for wiggle room in established programs to enhance popular services.

"When we need to get things done, they get done," he said, pointing to roadwork outside the Gallo Center for the Arts. "That tells me there's flexibility in the system."

Farrace opened a law office in Modesto nine years ago after working in real estate earlier in his career. He said he would step down from votes if his clients or their opponents appear before the council.

If elected, he said he'd begin his goals by looking at ways to retain police officers to prevent them from making lateral moves to other law enforcement agencies.

"It's really about my family and my son," he said. "I'd sure like these things to be the best they possibly can be."

* Lopez, 40, is making his fifth run for a council seat.

He said his repeated tries demonstrate his determination.

"The citizens of Modesto want someone that's not going to quit on them," he said.

Lopez said his approach to campaigning is changing after his unsuccessful bids.

He's not seeking donations, but he wouldn't rule them out if the race heads into a runoff.

His positions on the city Golf Advisory Commission and the Stanislaus County Library Board have given him a taste of how local government works.

Lopez offered a number of specific goals he wants to accomplish, such as involving churches and nonprofits in the development of the Tuolumne River Regional Park and reviving blighted roads between Sixth and Ninth streets.

"With a little more help, folks can get on their feet and start living the American dream. That's what the City Council's job is -- making things a little bit easier," he said.

Lopez, a business account executive, filed for bankruptcy protection in 1993. He said he learned from mistakes he made at the time.

Despite development fee increases, Lopez said a shortage of public safety resources shows that growth isn't paying for itself.

"I've seen the city grow by leaps and bounds," he said. "We need to start acting like a big city."

* Maynor, 26, wants to promote job growth, protect public safety and advocate for better education funding.

He'd pay for those goals by taking a hard look at city programs and cutting ones that don't meet their objectives. He said he couldn't point to "failing programs" yet.

Maynor, a union member, places a high value on drawing industrial-type jobs to Modesto, which he said would strengthen the economy and generate more sales tax revenue.

"It betters not just the skilled laborers, but it betters the whole city," he said.

His priorities for public service are partially shaped by a family that includes teachers, sheriff's deputies and a judge.

"We like to work really hard for what we get," he said. "We don't ask for anything."

* Stanford, 41, isn't the same man who spent years criticizing local law enforcement agencies for disregarding the civil rights of minorities.

He looked hard for those violations, but instead found the Modesto Police Department's officers taking great care to protect people in their pursuit of gangs and drugs.

"I've evolved," he said. "I found I was wrong about a lot of things."

Stanford now sits on Police Chief Roy Wasden's citizen advisory commission. He often visits Modesto's blighted airport neighborhood, where he tries to inform residents about city and county services that could benefit them.

Lately, Stanford has been speaking at city council meetings throughout Stanislaus County to push for a law that makes it easier for police to punish adults who give minors alcohol.

He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 1996. He also had run-ins with the law in his late teens and early 20s when he said he abused drugs after a sister died in a car accident.

"These are things that make me effective in the community, because I have that understanding," he said.

Stanford said he wants to declare Modesto a gang-and drug-free zone, and to pursue federal and state grants to help the Police Department get more resources to fight those offenses.

"We need to take it much more seriously, because it's killing us," he said.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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