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Modesto mayor says city needs a new mind-set

Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour took office four years ago facing red ink and looming budget cuts in City Hall.

His fifth state of the city speech sounded the same challenges Monday, with the city struggling with a foreclosure crisis and an accompanying economic downturn.

Ridenour's solution: tight financial management and regional planning that spreads the costs and benefits of providing public services to more than one city.

"We need to think differently and move away from the practice of each community in the county going it alone in regards to planning and economic development," he said before an audience of about 100 in the State Theatre. "It isn't working. We need to change our thinking and our planning to embrace more regional concepts."

Ridenour said he planned to protect core city services -- public safety, utilities and transportation -- but would be open to privatizing certain jobs "to ensure the best value for our community."

But the speech didn't dwell entirely on cutbacks.

He praised a number of accomplishments from the past year, such as attracting the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race to Modesto, investments in west Modesto through the Weed and Seed law enforcement partnership, and major improvements to the city's sewer and water systems.

"We are a city heading in the right direction, and I am proud to be a small part of that evolution," he said.

Some of the ideas and objectives the mayor set out for 2008:

Transportation: Ridenour endorsed a new proposal to ask voters for a half-cent sales tax increase that would steer more money to countywide road improvements. A previous pro- posal failed in 2006.

He further urged his colleagues in the county to "stop the petty bickering and embrace developing better cooperation and planning for regional transportation."

Government reform: Voters last week passed a measure that gives Ridenour more power to set the agenda in City Hall and one that sets up district elections for City Council races starting in 2009. Ridenour said his first priority would be to hire someone to fill the auditor position called for in Measure M, the Increase Accountability in City Hall measure.

Water: The mayor views water treatment as an opportunity for regional partnerships in the county. Several cities are considering whether to build a water treatment plant with the Turlock Irrigation District.

Growth: Despite the housing downturn, Ridenour said the city must continue planning for growth.

He said it's time for Modesto to undertake an urban growth review, which catalogs land that can be developed within the city.

Ridenour last year voted against conducting a growth review when a Dublin builder pressed the city to begin early plans for development on Modesto's northern border. At the time, Ridenour said the city had to finish its planning documents for its sewer, water and storm drain systems. Those plans are finished or nearly done.

Outsourcing: Under Ridenour's leadership, the City Council has hired Grover Landscape Services to conduct Modesto's park maintenance. It rejected a similar proposal to privatize the city's tree maintenance programs. Next up, the city will face a decision on whether to contract for custodial services in public buildings.

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

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