City considers funding Modesto Neighborhoods Inc.
Top Modesto officials Monday said they want to wait until they have a better idea about the city’s finances before deciding whether to endorse a proposal to give $900,000 to a nonprofit that would use the money to teach neighborhoods how to organize, become stronger and solve their problems.
The three members of the City Council’s Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee said the proposal has merit but voted to have it come back to them in 90 days. By then, Mayor Ted Brandvold – who took office last month – is expected to have completed his review of the city’s budget. The committee could recommend the proposal to the council. It would be up to the council to approve spending the money.
The proposal calls for the city to provide Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. with $900,000 over four years. The nonprofit is run by volunteers, and the money would let it hire staff and pay for other expenses so it could increase its efforts. It would have to meet specific targets each year, such as increasing the number of Neighborhood Watch groups and beautification projects, and provide training and other support to neighborhood leaders.
The nonprofit would hire staff who would seek donations and grants so Modesto Neighborhoods would be self-sufficient once the city money ends. The money would not go to Modesto Neighborhoods board members, and the expanded services would complement – not replace – those provided by the city.
“This is not a power grab; this is not a money grab,” said Councilman Doug Ridenour, who serves on the committee with Councilwomen Jenny Kenoyer and Kristi Ah You. “This is all good stuff.”
A city report says $767,721 of the $900,000 would come from the surplus from the city’s 2014-15 general fund budget, which primarily pays for public safety, and the remaining $132,279 from a refund Modesto received from the Local Agency Formation Commission, which governs how cities grow through annexations. City officials said the $900,000 is one-time money and not an ongoing revenue source.
The council’s committee meetings typically draw few people, but this proposal drew more than 50 city officials – including three other council members – Modesto Neighborhoods board members and members of the public, who packed the meeting room. The discussion took about 90 minutes, with more than a dozen people making comments and asking questions.
The discussion included comments about whether Modesto could find better uses for the $900,000 – such as helping the homeless, which in turn would help neighborhoods – how well the proposal would work – one audience member said it was “aspirational” and not “operational” – and how effective it would be if residents were not willing to do the work to help their neighborhoods.
Kenoyer reinforced the point about the homeless. She said she wanted to learn how much it will cost Modesto as it works with Stanislaus County on dealing with the homeless in a county-initiated effort called Focus on Prevention.
“Homelessness,” she said, “that’s a big problem. It’s why we have problems in neighborhoods and parks. We need to focus on that. I think this is a wonderful program, but until we know what our budget is ... . (We have to) see what we can really afford.”
City Manager Jim Holgersson said the proposal would help Modesto meet one of its top goals of helping its neighborhoods and would leverage one of the city’s core strengths – its community groups. He added this is a way for the city to provide services it cannot afford to provide on its own. Holgersson said the city has been talking with Modesto Neighborhoods for about a year about how it could expand its reach.
Modesto Neighborhoods formed several years ago, and board member Karlha Davies said she and other volunteers will continue their efforts even without city funding.
To read the city report on this proposal and material from Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. – including its proposed budget, what it would accomplish each year and a list of its board members – go to www.modestogov.com/council/committees/agendas. Click on “March 14” on the calendar to pull up the agenda for Monday’s meeting, then click on the links for the agenda and its reports.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316