Tree pruning, new parks staff among city cuts

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In June, Ceres City Council failed to agree on the approval of the 2021-22 budget and passed a rolling decision to pay the bills for two months. At that time, Council City Manager Tom Westbrook and his team ordered a cut of $ 1.69 million from the spending plan to keep the reserves from going into debt.

On Monday, Westbrook presented a list of cuts that will limit city services, including street tree pruning maintenance and park maintenance.

Much of the $ 1.6 million cuts are immediate savings from the new $ 4.6 million contract with the city of Modesto for fire departments. This contract allows Ceres to remove the fire control position for $ 261,299 and the chief of the administrative fire battalion for $ 217,103 as the contract reduces administrative burdens. These two positions together save the city $ 478,402.

The additional cuts are as follows:

• Eliminate a new Code Enforcement Officer for a savings of $ 101,774;

• Eliminated two new parking maintenance positions to save $ 760,312;

• Eliminated the road tree pruning grid program to save $ 264,560;

• Savings from budgeted vacancies since July 1, which is $ 77,500;

• Reduced the Parks Division’s fleet allocation to save $ 100,000;

• Reduced Police Fleet Allocation to Save $ 143,416;

• Reduced police overtime to save $ 221,700;

• Reallocate Police Overtime to Measure H to Save $ 125,000.

The cuts came despite the city recently being granted $ 1.44 million in federal funds under the US Bailout Act. 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 expected to end the fiscal year with $ 7.47 million in reserves, or 30.4 percent of the General Fund. Westbrook said the reserves offered the council the luxury of averting some of the cuts.

Members spent time discussing the effects of pruning the street tree pruning program. In 2020, the Council resumed the grid-based pruning program for roadside trees with the intent of having fewer and more expensive emergency prunings and tree removal while reducing the overall cost of tree maintenance. West Coast Arborists helped the city take stock of all street trees in 2013 and ordered a five-year plan for the cross-cut. Only two of the five grids are finished.

Public Works Director Jeremy Damas said the current drought is affecting street trees, which can break and drop the branches on cars and houses, and place a burden on the city.

“Without the cross-cut program, we cannot relieve the trees and / or prune the tree appropriately, fix it structurally before it starts to break,” said Jeremy Damas, director of public works.

The city is already understaffed with just five park maintenance workers, while the city should have eight to nine, said Damas. Without the allocation of the parking fleets, Damas found that this would be a setback to the maintenance efficiency of the parks.

Police Chief Rick Collins said the fleet allocation means the city will not change police vehicles at 80,000 miles, but rather drive them at about 100,000 miles. In the event that a patrol cruiser were to be totaled, Collins would have to come back to the council to make budget changes to replace it.

The boss said it remains to be seen how the reduction in police overtime will affect his department.

“So many factors go into our overtime,” said Chief Collins. “Of course we try to deal with this as best we can, but a number of factors play a role – in an extensive investigation or when we have a lot of people on the IOP (injured on duty) we need to replace the shifts that have an impact on our overtime. “

Collins said he was a full-staffed officer, which should reduce overtime. But he also made it clear that he has many officers incapacitated due to injuries.

Councilor Bret Silveira said the $ 500,000 savings on fire service contracts would allow the city council to balance the budget without sacrificing hiring a new law enforcement officer and two park maintenance workers. However, when he moved to approve the budget cuts but cut cuts to law enforcement officers, two park maintenance workers and reduced overtime for the police, it failed in a 2-2 tie, with Lopez and Silveira voting yes and Ryno and Condit no agreed.

“My goal has always been to have a balanced budget,” says Councilor Linda Ryno, “that we don’t spend more than we bring in people’s money.”

She argued that instead of hiring new employees, “we have to take care of those we have – we know that we are negotiating … with all of our negotiating units”.

Vice Mayor Couper Condit requested to allocate $ 365,000 in cannabis developer contracts to help the city hiring police officers, as California’s Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) resulted in workers hired after 2013 having most of the if not all of them had to pay their retirement costs against the fact that the city pays it. His request was supported by Mayor Javier Lopez but died 2-2.

The final motion came when Condit suggested adopting all of the cuts on the list, with the council voting 4-0 in favor.