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ARPA funds will aid in finishing park, tackling blight
Ceres city seal

A lengthy discussion among Ceres City Council members last week about ways to spend $5.8 million in the second round of federal COVID-19 relief money resulted in sharp disagreements about park development and code enforcement.

After going line by line on possible projects to fund, the council voted 3-2 on a spending plan which was supported by Mayor Javier Lopez, Vice Mayor Bret Silveira and Councilman Mike Kline; but rejected by Council members Linda Ryno and Jim Casey.

Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) in March 2021 which established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. The fund helps cities, counties and states with the pandemic recovery assistance and some kinds of infrastructure investment.  The funds must be committed by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Ceres received $5.8 million last July and will get another $5.8 million this coming July. The U.S. Treasury Department outlined how the ARPA funds may be spent, including offering premium pay for workers performing essential work, replacing lost revenue; for programs, services or capital expenditures that respond to the public health and negative economic impact of the pandemic; to mitigate and prevent COVID; and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

ARPA funds may not be used to offset a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from a change in state law. They also cannot be used as a contribution to shore up pension funds. They also cannot be used to pay down on debt service nor replenish rainy day funds.

Councilmembers were presented an exhausting list of possible expenditures. 

City Manager Alex Terrazas proposed to spend $500,000 to add two more code enforcement officers for two years and equipment.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno expressed concern about whether the city can afford to keep the code enforcement officers once ARPA funds are expended after two years.

Terrazas said the city could contract out code enforcement services but said the city wouldn’t get “as much bang for the buck.”

Ryno expressed her dismay about the city’s progress in tackling illegal dumping and other blight.

“There seems to be some kind of disconnect,” said Ryno. “I’m not saying we don’t need more code enforcement officers because we do have a problem in this city but what I think we should do is before you just start hiring people we need to have a discussion on what the expectations are for code enforcement.”

Ryno asked for an outline on how the city will be effective in reducing eyesores. She recommended the city hire temporary employees to begin an aggressive clean-up to rid Ceres of all the illegal dumps while the city develops a clear plan to tackle the problem. 

Ryno mentioned noticing how clean Oakdale is on a recent visit and learning Oakdale has one code enforcement officer.

Mayor Javier Lopez said while Oakdale might look nice “it doesn’t have a freeway that runs alongside of it at both ends.” He supports adding cameras and staff to “start catching some folks who just love to come to our city and just dump whenever they want.”

Vice Mayor Silveira supported adding the two new code enforcement officers while developing a strategic plan.

“To wait more than tomorrow to hire more resources and give them more resources would be unfortunate,” said Silveira.

Kline supported the new personnel but also expressed the need for a plan.

“If we just hire and we get what we currently have, I’m going to tell you pointblank I’m very disappointed. “

Kline said he favored premium pay for a police sergeant or lieutenant to take charge of code enforcement.

“I drove down Caswell, Rose Avenue, just Sunday alone, and there was seven illegal dumps,” Kline added.

Kline argued it was because the city doesn’t have a plan in place while Silveira said it’s because the city doesn’t have enough staff to keep up.

Terrazas said he will develop a program to tackle blight in the budget process.

The council butted heads over a proposal to spend $20,000 in ARPA funds for workout equipment that would allow the public to exercise inside the Community Center on a paid membership basis. The proposed exercise room will include treadmills, ellipticals, spin bikes, assisted lifting machines, stretching area and weights.

Kline saw it as a conflict with existing businesses but the mayor said it could encourage the public to stay healthy. Despite the idea to charge $15 to $20 per month, the mayor said some folks can’t afford the rates charged at some gyms. Planet Fitness charges $10 per month.

Ryno didn’t think the Community Center’s function was to include a gym.

Silveira said he was torn over the issue because of competition. He preferred to see no charge for public use of the equipment.

Terrazas suggested a workout room at the center might attract a different type of users than gyms, saying he was intimidated to see those working out at In Shape City during a recent ribbon cutting event.

When it came to a vote, Ryno, Silveira and Kline voted no; Lopez and Casey favored the idea.

Tense discussion occurred when it came to talk about allocating $400,000 to finish Guillermo Ochoa Park with sod, irrigation system and landscaping. The half-finished park was dedicated last summer.

Terrazas said ongoing maintenance would be about $100,000 annually.

“Whatever it is, this park needs to be finished,” pressed Silveira, “and I’m so excited to see one of the later items with building and finishing Lions Park also.”

Kline wondered why developer fees weren’t entirely funding the parks. Silveira jumped in and said all the fees collected went toward what was in Ochoa Park. He suggested maybe the fees haven’t been high enough to cover the costs of park development.

Terrazas said the city has approximately $700,000 in developer fees available for developing Lions Park.

Ryno, who noted that when Ochoa Park was originally Eastgate Park, believed that the funds for Eastgate were diverted to Ceres River Bluff Regional Park and recalled that upsetting the folks living in Eastgate.

Lions Park will cost the city an estimated $2.2 million, said Acting Public Works Director Sam Royal.

Ryno asked who would maintain Ochoa Park when residents already complain how the city doesn’t have enough manpower to maintain all existing parks. The city manager said the matter of costs would have to be “punted to the budget process.”

Ryno protested finishing Ochoa Park without knowing how the city will maintain it.

Casey agreed with Ryno but said it’s important to finish the park.

The expenditure was approved with three yes votes.

The council then discussed allocating $650,000 for the Phase 1 development of Lions Park on River Road.

Mayor Lopez said he supported the item but not until Ochoa Park is completed.

Ryno suggested Lions Park should not be held back since residents in that area have been waiting too long for it and since there are no city parks in that area.

“Instead of just doing curb, gutter and sidewalk, I think we should get play structure put in and at least get it to the minimum like Ochoa Park,” said Ryno.

While she saw a lot of great expenditures, she was concerned about the ongoing maintenance costs once they are built. Ryno specifically mentioned the idea of spending $400,000 to landscape, sod and install irrigation at Guillermo Ochoa Park and how the city doesn’t have enough parks staff to maintain the parks.

Silveira said he wants to see Ochoa Park finished with grass. Ryno said she’d rather see the money spent on the development of Lions Park to serve residents in north Ceres. Mayor Javier Lopez and Silveira, however, commented that they would like to see grass planted in Ochoa Park.

Ryno said while a lot of small businesses were able to apply for COVID relief funds, she wants to see some of the money offered to bolster small businesses in Ceres “that have fought to stay afloat.”

The council scratched some items off the list as presented in February. Nixed were plans to use $325,000 for a renovation and expansion of the parking cover behind the police station where the patrol vehicles are parked. Instead the money will be allocated to parks.

Also removed was an idea to spend $650,000 to install decorative lighting for downtown streets including conduits and conductors. 

The council agreed to spend the money the following ways:

• $55,000 to upgrade the city’s wireless infrastructure, saying the residential-grade infrastructure does not meet the city’s technology needs.

• $65,000 to replace mobile data computers for patrol cars.

• $75,000 for Cradlepoint wireless connection for patrol cars. The Cradlepoint wireless connection devices all need to be replaced due to the amount of data that is being pushed through the patrol cars. The updated devices will provide the necessary bandwidth to keep up with the technology needs of police.

• $300,000 for surveillance cameras throughout the city and parks to deter an increase in illegal dumping, vandalism and criminal activity.

• $250,000 to replace the security system in the Ceres Police Department building which is now 30 years old. Funding would provide for installation of a new card key system and replace all door locks in and around police building.

• Approximately $20,000 to upgrade the police officers’ duty gear storage room. Ryno didn’t think the money should come from ARPA funding but rather budgeted. She expressed desire to spend the money in the parks.

• $125,000 to buy a Critical Incident mobile command post for incidences requiring complex negotiations before tactical teams are deployed. The department has the trained personnel to handle these incidents but does not have a mobile command post.

• $75,000 for three speed trailers to be posted at various locations as a visual deterrent for vehicles driving fast and reckless when staffing does not allow an officer to be assigned to one specific location.

• $15,000 to upgrade the city police and city staff gym.

• $7,500 for mobile devices for Ceres Police Department’s social media team to take and edit pictures and videos for posting to social media. Currently personal devices are used.

• $25,000 to digitalize public records and make them accessible to the public. They are now only available on microfilm reader which is not fully functional. This also includes the microfilm records from the community development departments (site plans, conditions of approval, permits and zoning maps 1966-89). Currently the public cannot access these records as the microfilm printer is nonoperational.

• $15,000 to upgrade and enhance audio system in the City Council Chambers and replacement of microphones to adjustable movable microphones at the dais.

• $150,000 to remodel the council dais with installation of individual monitors as well as expand the staff desks and programming changes to the controls and new chairs. Ryno and Casey opposed.

• $15,000 for new sound equipment for Concerts in the Park, Ceres Street Faire, and all major city holiday events.

• $75,000 for additional trails and walkways for Don Pedro, Strawberry Fields and River Bluff Regional parks.

• $250,000 to upgrade the restrooms in River Bluff, Roeding Heights and Strawberry Fields Park.

• $125,000 to buy a machine to paint stripes for soccer fields to save hours of manpower.

• $425,000 for touchless crosswalk buttons at all 37 signalized intersections in Ceres.

• $50,000 to explore the feasibility of an indoor gym or soccer facility that could be an existing structure. Such a study could assist the city in obtaining grants in the future.

• $100,000 to upgrade traffic operations center equipment with latest technology including server, fiber optic terminal hub, program software and monitor unit.

• $400,000 to clean air ducts throughout all city buildings. Kline wondered why this wasn’t budgeted for; Terrazas said it is maintenance that has been put off for budget reasons. Ryno said no.

• $60,000 to replace three HVAC units for the Police building and the downtown Fire Station.

• $10,000 for foggers to sanitize city office areas and any personal protective equipment to help combat COVID-19.

• $90,000 to upgrade emergency medical equipment on two fire vehicles to allow for advanced life support services when a paramedic firefighter is assigned. The equipment would allow for a higher level of service to the community and better response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Equipment would include advanced life support monitors, airway equipment, and medications that can be utilized by a paramedic.

• $250,000 for street tree pruning.

• $750,000 for premium pay “bonuses” for “eligible workers performing essential work.” Kline said he was opposed but Terrazas reminded the council that it was approved by the council in labor negotiations.

• $150,000 for COVID related mandates and an employee help line designed to gather information from employees, provide guidance regarding COVID-19 protocols, collect list of other potential employee exposures, facilitate rapid testing at the worksite, facilitate PCR test, reporting of all positive tests and send results to the city. 

• $100,000 to hire a temporary project manager to oversee the completion of the vast list of projects in order to complete the projects in a timely manner.

• $38,000 for executive recruitment services for the hiring of department heads.

• $200,000 to replenish funding to allow shoppers to load their RAD card and get matched, dollar for dollar, up to $100 and thus shop local. It is proposed that this program be expanded to include businesses throughout Ceres.

• $75,000 to develop wayfinding signs directing traffic to key public facilities such as City Hall, Library, Community Center, Whitmore Museum, Whitmore Mansion, police/fire departments, Ceres High School, future ACE Railroad station, and public parking. Ryno was opposed, saying she doesn’t want to see more signs in Ceres but she was outvoted.

• $100,000 to support local economic recovery efforts through the form of grants, fee waivers/deferrals, and/or other incentives that enhance the economic vitality of downtown Ceres. The program will be developed and brought back to the council at a later date.

• $5,000 to buy and install a new sign banner to place over the existing First Interstate Bank sign facing Highway 99 to advertise “Downtown Ceres.” The city would have to iron out details with owner Jim Delhart yet. Ryno felt the sign would be tacky.

• $20,000 to add seasonal banners displayed in downtown Ceres installed on street lights on El Camino, Third, and Fifth, Lawrence and North streets.