In June the Ceres City Council could not agree on passing the 2021-22 fiscal year budget and passed a Continuing Resolution to pay the bills for two months. At that time the council ordered City Manager Tom Westbrook and his team to trim $1.69 million from the spending plan to prevent borrowing down on reserves.
On Monday Westbrook presented a list of cuts that will pare down on city services, including the street tree pruning maintenance and parks maintenance.
A big chunk of the $1.6 million in cuts is immediate savings realized from the new $4.6 million contract with the city of Modesto for fire services. That contract allows Ceres to eliminate the fire chief position at $261,299 and administrative fire battalion chief at $217,103 since the contract reduces administrative overhead. Those two positions combined save the city $478,402.
The additional cuts are as follows:
• Eliminating a new code enforcement officer for a savings of $101,774;
• Eliminating two new park maintenance positions to trim $760,312;
• Eliminating the street tree pruning grid program to save $264,560;
• Savings from budgeted by unfilled positions since July 1 that account for $77,500;
• Reducing the Parks Division fleet allocation to save $100,000;
• Reducing the police vehicle fleet allocation to save $143,416;
• Reducing police overtime to save $221,700;
• Reallocating Police Department Overtime to Measure H to pare $125,000.
The cuts were made despite the city having been recently bestowed $1.44 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. The council has yet to decide how the city will spend the funds as well as $2.1 million in federal CARES Act funds.
The budget is projected to end the fiscal year with $7.47 million in reserves, or a 30.4 percent of the General Fund. Westbrook said the reserves offered the council the luxury of staving off some of the cuts.
Members spent time talking about the effect of cutting the street tree pruning program. In 2020 the council reinstated the program of pruning street trees on a grid basis with the intent of having fewer, more expensive emergency tree trimmings and removals while decreasing the overall costs of tree maintenance. West Coast Arborists helped the city complete an inventory of all street trees in 2013 and ordered a five-year grid pruning schedule. Only two of the five grids have been finished.
Public Works Director Jeremy Damas said the present dry conditions are affecting street trees, which can break and drop limbs on cars and houses and present a liability to the city.
“Without the grid prune program we can’t relieve any weight on the trees and/or trim the tree accordingly, structurally make it sound, before they start breaking,” said Public Works Director Jeremy Damas.
The city is already shorthanded with only five parks maintenance staff whereas the city should have eight to nine, said Damas. Without the parks fleet allocation, Damas noted that it will be a setback to parks maintenance efficiencies.
Police Chief Rick Collins said the fleet allocation means the city won’t be changing out police vehicles at 80,000 miles but running them to about 100,000 miles. In the event a patrol cruiser is totaled Collins would have to come back to the council for budget amendments to replace it.
The chief said it remains to be seen how trimming police overtime will affect his department.
“So many factors go into our overtime,” said Chief Collins. “Obviously we try to manage it as best we can but a number of factors come into play – with large investigations or if we have a lot of people out on IOD (injured on duty) we’ll have to replace those shifts which will have an impact on our overtime.”
Collins said he is one officer of being fully staffed which should reduce overtime. But he also clarified that he has many officers off the job due to injuries.
Councilman Bret Silveira opined that the fire department contract savings of $500,000 would allow the council to balance the budget without having to refrain from hiring the new code enforcement officer and two parks maintenance workers. However, when he motioned to approve the budget cuts but scratch off cuts to the code enforcement officer, two parks maintenance workers and reduced overtime for police it failed in a 2-2 tie with Lopez and Silveira voting yes and Ryno and Condit voting no.
“My objective has always been to have a balanced budget,” said Councilwoman Linda Ryno, “that we don’t spend more than we bring in. I can’t do that at my own house and I certainly will not do it with the people’s money.”
She advocated that instead of hiring new employees “that we need to take care of the ones that we have – we know we have negotiations coming up … with all of our bargaining units.”
Vice Mayor Couper Condit motioned to allocate $365,000 from cannabis developer agreements to assist the city in hiring police officers since the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) caused employees hired after 2013 to pay most, if not all, of their retirement costs as opposed to the city paying it. His motion was seconded by Mayor Javier Lopez but died in a 2-2 vote.
The last motion came when Condit suggested adopting all of the cuts on the list, the council voted 4-0 to approve.