Mayor Garrad Marsh said Saturday during his town hall meeting that he expects Modesto will keep all 11 of its fire stations open in its current budget year but could not make any guarantees beyond that.
Fire Station No. 6 – which is near Vintage Faire Mall – has been slated to close as part of the city’s 2014-15 budget, which started July 1, but City Council members have had second thoughts. Modesto officials have not shuttered the station as they develop a plan to keep it open through the budget year, which ends June 30.
Marsh also talked about the city’s latest efforts to deal with graffiti and the problems caused by some of the homeless – such as aggressive panhandling – during his meeting at Tenth Street Place, which drew about 20 audience members.
And he addressed Wood Colony – the farming community west of Highway 99 – whose residents and supporters oppose Modesto’s decision to include the colony in its update to its general plan, which serves as a guide to how a city grows and develops.
In response to a colony resident who asked why Modesto wanted to annex her community, Marsh said that was not true. He said one of the city’s reasons for including the colony in the general plan was to protect it from Stanislaus County’s development plans. He said if the county signed a pledge saying it would not approve development in the colony, Modesto would do the same.
But Modesto officials also have said they included the colony in the general plan because the city needs land along the highway for commercial and business development.
Modesto’s $340 million operating budget for 2014-15 includes about $2 million each in reductions to the police and fire budgets. That continues several years of budget cuts to public safety and other core services as Modesto has seen its revenue fall and expenses rise. City officials still are developing a plan to keep Fire Station No. 6 open, but Marsh said he expects that will rely on the use of one-time money.
“We are going to keep Fire Station No. 6 open by the way,” he said. “It’s going to be a struggle. It’s going to be a year at a time. ... Without other funding sources, it will close. We will use one-time money (this year). Beyond that, it becomes very questionable.” He added it will take a council vote to keep the station open but he expects council members will support it.
Marsh said he expects the City Council will consider a new plan to deal with graffiti this year. It includes placing cameras in areas targeted by graffiti artists in order to catch and prosecute them. The city also wants to enlist the help of volunteers and enter private property to paint over graffiti. That would require the permission of the property owners.
The goal of the new approach is to remove graffiti within 24 hours of it being reported.
The city is looking at having uniformed community service officers and police explorers stationed where the homeless have become nuisances. The hope is that a uniformed presence will discourage people from aggressive panhandling and creating other problems. The community service officers and explorers can report more serious problems to the police.
On Wood Colony, Marsh said Modesto is facing the same issue that cities across the state face: Counties are encouraging development along the fringes of cities. He said that benefits the counties but not the cities.
He said Stanislaus County has allowed about 100 acres in the colony in several years to be converted from farmland to development. That includes an almond huller and a veterinary hospital, though some colony residents in the audience said those uses are compatible with their community.
Marsh said colony residents have more protection with the city because it cannot develop land piecemeal as the county can. He added that the current members of the county Board of Supervisors are farmland-friendly but that’s not a guarantee that future supervisors will be.
In January, the council adopted a map for its general plan update. The update is undergoing an environmental review, and city officials have said it could come back to the council for final adoption in early 2016.