The Modesto City Council on Tuesday authorized the city manager to issue layoff notices to help erase a general fund budget deficit.
Officials said the layoffs might affect just five employees, depending on contract talks with Police Department managers, the number of employees who accept early retirements and buyouts, and the ability of employees to move to vacant positions.
Notices will be issued today. The layoffs will be effective July 30.
More than 60 positions have been on the chopping block since the release of Mayor Jim Ridenour's budget in May.
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The number was reduced when five of the six employee unions agreed to wage concessions, saving the city more than $4.4 million. The city continues to negotiate with the Modesto Police Management Association, which represents sergeants and lieutenants.
Human Resources Director Dee Williams-Ridley said 32 employees have applied for an early retirement incentive package and three expressed interest in buyout offers. The city is offering up to $30,000 for early retirement or voluntary separation. The amounts vary according to years of service.
The council, in approving the budget last month, eliminated 21 vacant positions.
The Police Department is losing 11 community service officers, the nonsworn officers who respond to burglaries, auto thefts, vandalism reports and other low priority calls.
Three opted to take the early retirement incentive package. As of Tuesday, the fate of the other eight was unclear, a union representative said.
In another item, the City Council voted 4-3 to put a measure on the November ballot asking Modesto voters to change the city's runoff elections.
The measure, if approved, will eliminate runoffs for council district races and move the mayoral runoff from early December to the first Tuesday in February.
Ridenour joined council members Joe Muratore, Kristin Olsen and Dave Geer in support of putting the measure before voters.
Councilmen Dave Lopez, Garrad Marsh and Brad Hawn were opposed, saying they wanted to keep runoffs for the council district races.
The early December date mandated by the city charter for runoff elections provides little or no time for verifying the November election results and mailing runoff ballots when a candidate doesn't get more than 50 percent of votes cast.
As a result, ballots went out too late for a 2001 runoff, and there was no time to resolve a vote-counting dispute in 2005.
A committee appointed by Ridenour last year recommended the changes after studying the system and concluding it is deeply flawed. Ridenour and other council members agreed the timing needs to change.
Lopez strongly advised keeping the runoffs for council races, because it's possible for a candidate in a crowded field to get elected with a small percentage of votes now that Modesto has moved from citywide council races to district elections.
Noting that only 1,100 votes were cast in District 2 in November, Lopez said, "Someone could get elected with 200 votes and wield tremendous power in the city."
Muratore countered that there are additional campaign costs if a runoff is necessary.
Besides the campaign costs, the committee estimated it costs $47,000 to $170,000 for the city to hold council runoff elections, depending on how many are needed.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.