Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: Hard decisions to put more cops on Modesto streets stir emotions

Modesto owes $3.3 million in bond debt on the city’s three golf courses, including Creekside Golf Course seen here, and needs to pump $2.9 million into capital improvements.
Modesto owes $3.3 million in bond debt on the city’s three golf courses, including Creekside Golf Course seen here, and needs to pump $2.9 million into capital improvements. Modesto Bee file

When the volunteer members of Mayor Ted Brandvold’s 100-day committee set about finding money in the city’s existing coffers to hire more police officers, one area stood out. OK, four or seven areas, depending on how you work the numbers.

The city in 2014-15 paid about $2.5 million to subsidize Modesto Centre Plaza, John Thurman Field, the McHenry Mansion and Museum, and the city’s three golf courses combined.

The golf courses collectively represented the biggest drain at $682,565. The city owes $3.3 million in bond debt and needs to pump $2.9 million into capital improvements.

The city backfilled Centre Plaza – now owned by a redevelopment successor agency – by $608,590, which includes debt service.

John Thurman Field, renovated in 1996 to keep minor league baseball in the city, burned $569,813 that included debt service on the $3.9 million in bonds that helped finance the rebuild. The bonds should have been paid off this year, but were refinanced several years ago. Twenty years later, the city owes roughly $3 million on the current refinanced bond. The city – not the tenant, the Modesto Nuts – also pays for maintenance on the stadium. Most other minor league teams across the nation cover the maintenance costs in their agreements.

And the city’s $409,032 subsidy to the McHenry Mansion and Museum included staff, insurance and maintenance costs.

Isn’t this simply business as usual for government? Well, yes. Pretty much. Which is what the committee, which included business owner Chuck Bryant, Michael Zagaris and others, believes needs to change if the city is going to get off of the boom/recession roller coaster and stabilize itself for the long haul.

The city, they said, needs to stop bleeding tax dollars by trying to operate three golf courses. The number of rounds played annually at the Creekside, Dryden and Modesto Municipal courses has declined most years over the past decade.

It should contract with the DoubleTree Hotel to manage Centre Plaza.

With the contract soon up for renewal, it should negotiate better terms with the Modesto Nuts for the ballpark, and consider turning the McHenry Mansion and Museum over to nonprofit foundations already established to support those treasures.

Zagaris, when the committee met with The Bee’s editorial board last week, made it very clear the committee didn’t recommend closing the McHenry Mansion or Museum. They generated $70,000 in revenue between them in 2014-15.

“What you’d do is put it in the hands of people who are passionate about the McHenry Mansion and Museum,” Bryant said.

Those very passions are what will bring the mansion/museum and golf crowds downtown Tuesday night when the council votes on whether to adopt the recommendations of the 100-day committee.

Anytime anything hits the agenda regarding changes for the golf courses, the chamber fills with seniors who believe discounted golf rounds are their inherent right, end of argument.

Meanwhile, McHenry Mansion Foundation President George Halpin believes the McHenry Mansion and Museum absolutely belong to the residents of Modesto and that their ownership should not change. The foundation recently created a marketing committee and hopes to soon begin selling items from its gift shop online, which it cannot do now. The foundation believes the mansion, purchased by the Julio Gallo Foundation for the city in 1976, was given to the people of Modesto to remain under city ownership.

“We’ll be out in force (at the council meeting),” he said.

Halpin said Destination Modesto, a plan to use the city’s assets as tourist attractions, included tapping into transient (hotel) taxes to help pay such costs rather than constantly burdening the city’s general fund.

“(The committee members) aren’t giving it a chance,” he said of the plan.

That’s because bureaucrats are historically poor at promoting. They aren’t trained for it, they aren’t skilled at it, and some aren’t the most effusive folks on the block by nature. Not too many Don Kings or P.T. Barnums among them.

“Who would know more about how to book the Centre Plaza?” Bryant said. “The folks running the DoubleTree who do this for a living or (Deputy City Manager) Brent Sinclair?”

What the committee determined was that a city burdened with liabilities created by decisions made long ago needs to change its business practices if it wants to put officers on the streets now and stabilize its finances for the future.