A handful of Ceres residents on Monday gave their take on where the City Council should be prioritizing spending in light of increases revenues for the new budget year starting on July 1.
A number suggested beefing up fire personnel while others want to see more police officers.
Mayor Chris Vierra said citizens could make their opinions known but reminded them that they would not be discussing the budget until the Monday, June 25 meeting at 6 p.m. He said the council has not made any decision and is awaiting more information from City Manager Toby Wells.
At its meeting on May 29 the council said it is interested in learning more about a fire department staffing plan that would result in Ceres pulling out of the contract it has with Industrial Fire Department to operate the Pecos Avenue station near south Modesto. The action would take place if the city decides to create four-man engine companies at the two remaining stations – in downtown and the one on Fowler Road.
With newfound revenues from three marijuana operations in Ceres, West Ceres resident Ann Thatcher appealed to the council to reopen station #4 on Service Road. The station was closed when the city lost six firefighters funded by a two-year federal SAFER grant. Thatcher said slower response times will affect fire insurance rates.
“When you start contracting out services you lose control which does hurt the citizens,” said Thatcher. “I understand that you already have resource sharing and my home will be covered by the city of Modesto but I know the city of Modesto residents don’t want them responding, if there was an emergency, to my home in Ceres because they’re paying for their fire services.”
Avery Jackson suggested more allocation for police and the return of a Street Crimes Unit and to devote an officer to the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force, or StanCATT. He also suggested raising the pay of police officers.
“Our police department can hardly get applicants because of how low our wages are and our extremely lack of special assignments,” Jackson said. “It has been over 10 years since the police department has seen a legitimate pay raise, however in just the last 10 years alone has gone up 22 percent. All the while what little money we’re supplying our officers with they hardly see.”
Jackson raised groans in the audience when he suggested Ceres return to a volunteer fire department.
Josh Steeley criticized the city for failing to spend the remaining $320,000 of the unused SAFER grant funds to keep six firefighters on from March to June 30 because it would have cost the city an additional $30,000 while the city spent $100,000 for a new lawnmower. He said he doesn’t support closing the Pecos fire station “because I feel it puts my family and other families in Ceres at risk and in danger.
“I’m willing to see my parks’ lawns go uncut but not my family’s fire and police protection to be cut,” added Steeley.