Does Modesto have money that it can use to avert layoffs in the Police Department?
Yes, but not much.
Will the City Council use that cash to give officers raises?
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Members of the Modesto Police Officers Association are combing the city's 447-page budget, searching for money that could be used to keep all of its 202 members on the street.
They've zeroed in on three funds:
Modesto's roughly $8 million general fund reserve
The $6.5 million account that pays for new vehicles. Only $400,000 to $500,000 of that fund is available for police spending; the rest belongs to utility funds that are supported by monthly sewer and water bills. The law enforcement portion is earmarked to buy new patrol cars and to replace police vehicles that are totaled.
The city's multimillion-dollar workers compensation and liability funds
Council members are unlikely to redirect that money to operating costs in the Police Department because they fear Modesto could lose $3 million to $7.7 million if the state follows through on plans to take money from local governments to balance its budget.
"We're in a free fall," Councilman Brad Hawn said. "We don't know where we're going to end up, so we can't really use the reserves in a way that you would normally use the reserves."
The city has been scaling back the money it steers into the funds identified as possible sources of cash for the Police Department for the past two years, when Modesto began to reduce its spending because of a drop in tax revenue.
Modesto has been passing on buying cars in particular, keeping police vehicles on the road for 100,000 miles instead of 85,000 miles.
It has trimmed its contributions to an employee benefit fund and reduced its target for general fund reserves from 8 percent of spending to 7 percent. The reserve ratio is important because it's tied to the financial documents that support Modesto's long-term debt.
"We would love to make everyone happy and give them everything that that they deserve," Councilwoman Janice Keating said.
"But there is nothing left, just like there is nothing left in our retirement accounts, just like there is nothing left in the value of our homes," she said, comparing the city's recession finances to a typical San Joaquin Valley resident's.
Police officers and their supporters, however, have been saying that the purpose of the reserve money is to cushion the city in depressed times. They say it's time to exhaust those funds to keep officers on the street.
Taking money set aside for patrol cars, for example, might allow Modesto to retain two or three officers who otherwise would be laid off.
"It might not have much in it, but let's put it to use," MPOA President Tony Arguelles said.
Ten officers in his union received layoff notices Wednesday. Arguelles said Wednesday that the notices stated that the city had 14 days to lay off the officers.
City officials say those layoffs don't have to happen if the union agrees to defer a 3 percent raise this month and a 2 percent raise in February. The union says it is unwilling to make concessions unless it gets a no-layoff guarantee from the city.
"If it was the dead end of this thing, we'd do it differently," Hawn said. "But we're going to be back at the table in December talking about deficits that we don't even know about yet."
Arguelles said the union is trying to advise the officers facing layoffs on where they can find new positions, or if they should wait to see if Modesto receives money from federal law enforcement grants that are expected to be released this fall.
"We are always hopeful and we remain hopeful that somewhere down the line we can make a last effort to find a solution," Arguelles said.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.