2010 State of the City Speech

State of the City 2010 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Jim Ridenour
February 17, 2010

Good afternoon and thank you for joining me today as I present my annual State of the City address. This year, I am pleased to be presenting my address in conjunction with the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s economic forecast.

Mayor Jim Ridenour I would like to thank the council members who have joined me here this afternoon and I would like to introduce each of them.

  • Vice Mayor Dave Lopez
  • Councilmember Dave Geer
  • Councilmember Brad Hawn
  • Councilmember Garrand Marsh
  • Councilmember Joe Muratore
  • Councilmember Kristen Olsen

I would also like to thank the City’s Charter Officers who are present this afternoon: City Manager Greg Nyhoff; City Attorney Susana Wood; City Clerk Stephanie Lopez; and, City Auditor Frank DeMattos. I would also like to thank the Department Directors and City staff for attending this afternoon.

There is another person here today who is my closest advisor, remains my strongest supporter and my partner in life, my beautiful wife Renee.

I would like to share the following quote with you from Theodore Roosevelt. I believe it helps set the tone for this address:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Fiscal Condition of the City

The fiscal condition of the City can best be described as stable but not healthy. Property and sales tax revenues continue to decline. Decreased consumer spending and a lack of business expansion are accompanied by double-digit unemployment here in our local economy.

Due to the tough decisions the Council and I made during the last several budget cycles, and the fact that we have consistently focused on prudent spending and limiting the growth of City services, Modesto remains in the financial position to provide adequate core public services, even in the face of some of the most trying economic conditions this nation has endured in decades. One area where this rings true is in recent crime statistics, which I will share later in this address.

While Modesto is not yet in financial recovery, we have been able to rapidly and significantly decrease the amount of spending in our budget to more closely align with available revenue. We continue to manage the City like a business and have resisted the temptation to dip into cash reserves to fund programs and core services.

I do not want to dwell on our financial woes, because Modesto, like so many other cities in California and the nation, continues to face challenges. Soon we will begin the process to adopt a budget for the coming fiscal year and will have to overcome a significant deficit. Early estimates lead me to believe that we will need to reduce approximately $8 million in expenditures. We will again meet the challenge head-on by reducing services and negotiating with our employee bargaining units regarding employee concessions to avoid having to lay off additional staff, to the extent that it is possible.

Sustainability of Services and Staffing

The City’s budget is a one-year business plan that undergoes constant review and revision. In the long-term, the Council and I will need to address the sustainability of services and programs in the face of a significant, and likely permanent, adjustment to government revenue. Employee wage and benefit costs have continued to grow over the last several years, while revenue to the city has not. Some of this has to do with the City trying to be more competitive in the employment market place, some with overly optimistic forecasting and budgeting and some with binding arbitration for public safety employees.

No matter the reasons, we face a situation where the current and future councils will be constrained economically from providing annual increases in wages and benefits; particularly defined benefit pension plans to our employees. As a Council, we do not seek to remove pensions that have already been promised through the collective bargaining process; however future discussions may need to include a tiered wage and benefit program for newly hired employees. Wages and benefits absorb 75 percent of the general fund budget this year; an amount that, over time, is just not financially feasible.

I also plan to continue studying privatization of City services and recommend the curtailment of services and programs that are not mandated or funded by state or federal dollars in an effort to ensure that we are respecting the hard earned dollars of our citizens. For remaining core services such as police, fire, parks, community development and public works, we will simply have to find a way to continue providing these core services with less funding and with minimal impact to our citizens.

One of the ways business and the public can help this City is through qualifying a ballot initiative for the November ballot and then passing the Local Taxpayer, Public Safety, and Transportation Act of 2010. You can view information on this at: www.savelocalservices.com. Representatives from the League of California Cities will be available to answer questions and provide you with an opportunity to sign the petition in the back of this room immediately following today’s event.

Road Investments and Maintenance

Modesto received $3.3 million in federal stimulus funds to resurface portions of some of the City’s busiest streets including Oakdale Road, Orangeburg Avenue and Sisk Road. An additional $3.2 million was awarded to Modesto to apply a thin surface treatment to approximately 25 miles of streets throughout the City. Both of these projects will be under construction this summer.

We completed the reconstruction of H Street between 17th and Burney Streets at a total cost of $1.2 million. This project included reconstructing the pavement and improvements to the storm drainage system, the sewer collection system and street lighting. The project was funded with a federal grants as well as gas tax and wastewater funds.

Three miles of new lanes were added to Pelandale Avenue, widening the road between Dale Road and McHenry Avenue. This project was completed just in time for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year! This $15 million project has helped minimize congestion by facilitating better traffic flow from east Modesto to Highway 99. In addition, Claratina Avenue was extended between Coffee Road and Oakdale Road using $1.8 million. Both of these projects were funded entirely through developer impact fees.

Economic Development

It is no secret that Modesto is essentially ground zero for home foreclosures and a significant loss of equity in home values. Because I do not believe our local economy can recover until we stop the slide of foreclosures and property value losses, the City has placed a great amount of emphasis on assisting home owners and potential home buyers.

Through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the City implements comprehensive neighborhood stabilization and economic recovery programs. Our staff have already funded the purchase and rehabilitation of nearly 30 residential properties that were facing foreclosure. Once the purchase and rehab is complete, these homes will no longer be blight in the neighborhood and will provide much needed housing for Modesto families. The City is in a strong position to fully utilize the $8.1 million allocation awarded last year within the program’s timeframe.

Modesto has recently been awarded $25 million in additional Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds. $10.5 million will be used for the acquisition and rehabilitation of up to 175 foreclosed and/or vacant properties; $6 million has been allocated to provide safe, affordable housing for underserved populations; and another $6 million will provide housing for the disabled. Modesto is one of only 12 agencies awarded funds in California, with only 56 grantees across the nation. This program puts the dollars spent on supplies, materials and labor right back into our local economy.

Modesto needs to be competitive in attracting business investment which will help generate the jobs we so desperately need. As a result, the City Council approved the formation of the Comprehensive Fee Task Force. One purpose of the task force is coordinating all development-related fee proposals and aligning all fee structures with the goals and policies of the City. The second is, in part, to review the process our customers must go through when creating a new business or expanding an existing business.

The results of the review will also help determine whether our development processes or impact fees hinder economic development in Modesto. We must make sure that impact fees are, on one hand adequate to support the needs of the City; and on the other hand, determine whether the fees are appropriate given dramatic changes in the economy. These will ultimately be the decisions the Council and I will have to make.

I am also pleased to inform you the City has partnered with the Downtown Improvement District, the Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance and the Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau to collaborate on the future of our downtown. Business members will help the City to shape how the downtown looks in the future.

One area we are exploring is changing to a form-based code program. Form based codes allow for greater latitude in density and uses allowed in the downtown, but also provide for creating a constant theme and character for the downtown.

Financial Accountability

I am pleased to report that the City of Modesto successfully completed the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Single Audit for fiscal year 2008-2009 with no significant material findings. These reports are reviewed by independent experts to verify that financial controls are adequate and that the City is compliant with grant funding requirements. Kudos to Finance staff for this accomplishment.

Crime and Community Quality of Life

Law Enforcement:

Modesto was awarded 1st place in California by the National Town Watch Association for their participation and involvement in National Night Out Activities and 4th place nationally. Modesto had 8,000 of its residents participate in National Night Out activities by hosting 243 parties with the purposes of heightening crime and drug prevention awareness, generating support for anti-crime programs, promoting police-community partnerships and sending a strong and unified message to criminals that neighborhoods are united and are fighting back.

Eliminating crimes committed by gang members is a major priority of the City and I am pleased to report on three efforts that combined are pushing us toward being a safer community. Our Police Department has implemented Project SAFE, a proven strategy combining focused deterrence on gang members most likely to commit violence with opportunities to receive services and employment as a result of funding received from the Governor’s Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy. Addition, the California Endowment, the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Region and the California Wellness Foundation have contributed $1 million for technical assistance to support the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention initiative.

The City also partnered with the Stanislaus County District Attorney and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office to bring forward a civil gang injunction in Southwest Modesto. This injunction restrains gang members from engaging in forbidden activities within a safety zone. This is a proven method to help control and reduce the recruitment of new gang members and we are analyzing data to determine where additional gang injunctions can be used as a tool to make neighborhoods safer.

Earlier I mentioned that we have been able to provide essential services even in the face of continued budget challenges. Final numbers are not yet in; however, it looks like that in 2009, Police Department achieved an overall reduction of 4% in the Part One crimes of murder, robbery, larceny, burglary, aggravated assault and auto theft. Of particular note, we have achieved a 10% reduction in auto thefts alone.

Code Enforcement:

Part of maintaining a safe and healthy community includes continual monitoring of building code compliance and other quality of life issues in our City. The Neighborhood Preservation Unit, or Code Enforcement Unit, has moved from the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department to the Building Safety Division of the Community and Economic Development Department.

This merger allows for greater efficiencies as there is now one system for the enforcement process. This improved team has a “results oriented approach” to enforce codes and to maintain better neighborhoods. With a rapid response system, code violations are responded to based on the urgency of the call as it relates to health and safety issues. The restructure allows for building inspectors and code enforcement officers to collaborate more closely in maintaining city standards. I point to this because it is a good example of staff using their ingenuity and creativity in providing better services without increasing the budget.

After School and Youth Programs:

The City, along with Modesto City Schools sponsored after-school programs at six elementary schools and one middle school, serving over 400 kids on a daily basis. These programs help student improve their test scores, computer literacy and social skills. The Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department also teamed up with the San Francisco Giants to offer the Junior Giants baseball program. Junior Giants was a six-week, non-competitive baseball league for boys and girls entering grades K-8 in the 2008-2009 school year. The program focused on the fundamentals of baseball as well as leadership, teamwork, confidence and integrity. As part of this partnership we were able to offer a baseball league to over 300 youth many who were playing for the first time.

Continuity in City Planning Efforts

As a part of my platform for initially running for office and in each of my annual addresses, I have highlighted the importance of proper long-term planning for Modesto. Presently, growth has abruptly stopped and Modesto and its residents have endured deep financial difficulties related to the depressed economy. Although nothing we do today will bring immediate investment to the City, I don’t see that as a reason to hold off planning for the future and being better prepared when the economy does rebound.

A primary focus of the 2009 Urban Growth Review was economic development. One conclusion reached early in the process was that certain General Plan land use designations should be changed to correct unrealistic assumptions from previous planning efforts. Our planning efforts in this regard are to promote job creation, increase sales tax revenues and create a more balanced land use strategy. These planning actions are appropriate now and they should occur regardless of the timing of future annexations.

Additionally, as I have called for in previous years, the General Plan should be modernized with an eye toward future development patterns in order to best facilitate possible future growth scenarios. None of this is done in a vacuum. Much like the capital planning we have done for future needs, this process requires a great deal of analysis of traffic, infrastructure and utility needs.

There are also many other issues to consider that will be resolved through the planning process and all of the environmental studies that will be necessary to approve the plans. The update to our planning documents will continue at the pace at which we can adequately fund the work and studies necessary to produce a quality product.

I am also working closely with the mayors of our nine cities and the chairman of the board of supervisors on a process to create a blueprint for how we handle future growth in Stanislaus County.

2009 Achievements

Modesto plays host to a variety of exciting events. Last year we successfully hosted a finish stage for the Amgen Tour of California in February 2009. The tour will be returning to Modesto on Wednesday, May 19, as we will once again host a race finish. Modesto was selected from 88 cities to host a stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California. Save Mart, Foster Farms and many local businesses provide generous financial support for many city events, and we would not enjoy the level of success that we have in attracting events to our community without their assistance.

Conclusion

A year has gone by quickly. Last year we felt as though we were staring in to the abyss. It was almost unimaginable what had to be accomplished to right-size the City in light of severe economic challenges. While there is no way I can be happy about the challenges we had to overcome, I am proud of our ability to address those challenges head-on.

As I close my remarks to you today, I have provided a list of activities undertaken by the City over the course of the past year; I have highlighted an inventory of projects that were completed and those that will begin this year; and, I have also shared highlights of our accomplishments and areas where members of the community have worked closely with the City to make Modesto a better place. However, I would be remiss if I did not thank each and every employee of the City for their hard work and dedication during this difficult adjustment. I recognize that it takes a human effort to make this City work, and for that, I thank them for their contributions.

We are beginning to see what may be the flickers of an economy that has not yet ignited. I look forward to better times, as I know you do. We will continue to move this City forward by providing solid financial accountability, sound long term planning and quality core services to our citizens.

As we do move ahead, we would be remiss to not remember the agonizing and trying times we have endured over the past several years. It should serve as a constant reminder to the present and future City leaders in how we prepare for the future and how we conduct are roles in ensuring the long term financial sustainability of the City of Modesto.

I am proud to serve as your Mayor and to work with members of the community to make Modesto a safe and prosperous City. I thank you for being here today and for your role in making Modesto a better city. May God bless Modesto, and may God bless America. Thank you.

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