Kevin Valine

Modesto council picks $2.7 million in projects

In June 2011, a Miracle League baseball exhibition allowed local kids with special needs to play with minor-league all-stars at John Thurman Field.The Miracle League of Stanislaus County wants to build a baseball field in Modesto for disabled children. The group needs about $1.5 million and has raised about $1 million.
In June 2011, a Miracle League baseball exhibition allowed local kids with special needs to play with minor-league all-stars at John Thurman Field.The Miracle League of Stanislaus County wants to build a baseball field in Modesto for disabled children. The group needs about $1.5 million and has raised about $1 million. Modesto Bee file

The City Council is zeroing in on how it wants to spend a few million dollars in extra money from last year’s budget.

Council members at a workshop Tuesday made these selections: purchasing graffiti surveillance cameras, funding repairs and maintenance at fire stations, replacing failure-prone high-voltage streetlights with more reliable ones, updating the general plan, cutting the parasite mistletoe out of city trees, helping a group build a baseball field for disabled children and providing funding for the Park Partners program.

The price tags for these projects total about $2.7 million.

Before providing details on each project, let’s take a detour on the money that will pay for them. The city has the extra money after closing the books on its most recent budget year, which ended June 30. Officials call the money a “carryover” and it primarily comes from Modesto not spending as much on employees as it budgeted, such as by not filling jobs when workers left.

The carryover is from the city’s general fund, which primarily pays for public safety. (The roughly $107 million general fund also has a $3 million rainy-day fund.) Officials have said they want to spend the carryover on one-time projects they consider investments in the city and to make a dent in all of the maintenance the city put off during the recession.

Here’s where the detour takes a twist.

At a workshop about a month ago, officials said Modesto had about a $5.1 million carryover. At this week’s workshop, they revised that to about $3.5 million.

That’s because officials said this week they want to use nearly $1.6 million from the carryover to pay for the general fund labor costs associated with agreements the city recently reached with five of its six labor groups.

About $700,000 would cover pay raises in the current budget year and about $900,000 would pay for short-term incentives, such as retention bonuses for police officers, owed to employees in this and the next budget year.

City Manager Jim Holgersson said, in hindsight, officials should have discussed at the first workshop the possibility of spending part of the carryover for the labor agreements. Mayor Garrad Marsh said the tipping point for using the carryover occurred between the two workshops.

That’s when the council approved the last labor agreement, which is with the Modesto Police Officers Association. That agreement makes up about $1 million of the $1.6 million, according to city reports.

Here’s one more thing about the carryover. Nothing on how the money will be spent – including using it for the labor agreements – is final until council members approve the spending. So while the council is getting close to deciding how it will spend the carryover, there could be some tweaks. And the council still has about $800,000 left in carryover funds after the $2.7 million in selected projects.

So based on Tuesday’s workshop, here is how the council wants to spend the money:

▪ $500,000 for 45 graffiti cameras. The cameras can work at night and are activated by motion sensors. The city would install 25 of them at permanent spots where city buildings and property are targeted by taggers. The remaining 20 cameras are portable and can be moved to graffiti hot spots. The city would use the cameras to catch taggers defacing public and private property. The cameras are part of a larger effort by the city to combat graffiti, which should come before the council for consideration in the next month or two.

▪ $400,000 for repairs and maintenance at fire stations. The work includes upgrading emergency generators and tackling repairs and maintenance that were put off during the recession.

▪ $600,000 for replacing high-voltage streetlights with light-emitting diodes. Modesto has about 11,000 streetlights, and 735 of them are the high-voltage lights. The high-voltage lights are antiquated, and when one streetlight fails, it knocks out all of the streetlights in its circuit. The LED lights are more reliable, safer and use less energy. The $600,000 could replace about one-sixth of the high-voltage lights. Public Works Director Bill Sandhu said more lights would be replaced as funding becomes available.

▪ $500,000 for the general plan’s first comprehensive update in about 20 years. The project would cost about $1 million, and the city has set aside half of that for the update. The general plan serves as a blueprint for how a city grows and develops.

▪ $352,000 to remove mistletoe from city trees. The city’s urban forest suffered during the recession because of budget and staffing cuts to the forestry division. As part of the recent citywide reorganization, Modesto is increasing forestry’s staffing and stabilizing its funding.

▪ As much as $250,000 to match donations received by The Miracle League of Stanislaus County, which wants to build a baseball field in Modesto for disabled children. The group needs about $1.5 million and has raised about $1 million.

▪ $100,000 for the city’s Park Partners program. The city works with neighborhoods, community members and others on park projects, such as replacing outdated playground equipment.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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