Councilman urges Modesto to cut its reserve, spare police

Modesto City Councilman Bob Dunbar would rather keep cops on the street than stash money in budget reserves.

He urged his colleagues Tuesday to reduce an 8 percent reserve in Modesto's $135 million general fund rather than cut police ranks, a proposal under consideration because of a sharp downturn in tax revenue.

Dunbar would spare the Police Department about $1.3 million of the $2.9 million it must cut as part of a plan to protect the city's reserves this year.

Council members Brad Hawn and Kristin Olsen, who evaluated budget-cutting plans with Dunbar at a city Finance Committee meeting, agreed to look at tapping reserves but said they were concerned that doing so could worsen Modesto's financial outlook in coming years.

"We simply would have that much less to fall back on," Finance Director Wayne Padilla said.

Padilla and other city executives gave the council members a plan to cut 80 of the 870 jobs paid for through Modesto's general fund.

Layoffs are not on the table. Police Chief Roy Wasden could lose 25 officer positions through attrition; Fire Chief Jim Miguel could drop 17 spots.

"The net effect overall is a reduction in police services," Wasden said.

His department has 283 officers, 96 of whom are assigned to patrol beats. Many of the others belong to special units, such as detectives, traffic enforcement, a drug task force and a gang unit.

Padilla's projections show red ink building in the general fund in the next few years unless the city slashes its spending. Department leaders were asked to cut 7 percent this year; 3 percent reductions are likely for next year.

City Manager George Britton initiated a hiring freeze in August. The plans presented to council members this week have been in the works since then.

The Finance Committee is expected to return to the budget-cutting proposals Nov. 26. A revised budget could be adopted in December.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

Related stories from Modesto Bee