The city is helping to spawn neighborhood associations across Modesto by providing seed money for printing, mailing, staff time and other expenses.
Officials say the start-up costs for groups such as the La Loma Neighborhood Association usually range from $3,000 to $5,000.
"They are willing to do volunteer work for us and it pays off big in the end," said Julie Hannon, director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods. "It's a benefit to the city to have connected and engaged citizens."
The neighbors-helping-neighbors movement is a trend sweeping Modesto. The associations are formed to deal with problems such as burglaries, speeding motorists or graffiti, and they work on projects to improve their neighborhoods.
Besides doing volunteer work, the groups try to secure city support for better police protection or grants for neighborhood improvements, which serve to reinforce property values.
Because people invariably question the start-up funding, Hannon last week asked the three council members on the city finance committee for their opinion about the assistance.
Councilman Dave Geer noted that funding went to the La Loma and College Area associations, which cover two relatively affluent areas of Modesto.
But he joined fellow committee members Brad Hawn and Garrad Marsh in recommending the program. They agreed with staff that the city reaps benefits over the long run.
Hannon estimated that the La Loma association has saved the city $50,000 with its volunteer work to maintain parks and roundabouts and remove graffiti.
She said the city has given assistance to the King-Kennedy neighborhood group in west Modesto and other groups in economically distressed areas of Modesto.
Mike Moradian, who spearheaded the La Loma association, said the group performs duties the city no longer covers because of budget cuts.
It has a private security patrol that reduces burglary and other crimes in the La Loma area. Besides projects to clean and improve Kewin Park, he said, contractors who live in the area replace the lights in city roundabouts.
Moradian said he first paid expenses out-of-pocket when he set out to revitalize the La Loma association in 2006. The city, however, agreed to pay for the first two mailers sent to residents.
"We do fund-raising and we put a lot of money into the neighborhood," Moradian said. "We have some low-income pockets in our area and they benefit, too. We all work together to solve problems."
The city mailed 2,000 surveys to homes in the College Avenue area, asking residents to identify problems. The group's steering committee read the survey results at the first community meeting held at Graceada Park in June, and then people signed up for committees to start tackling the issues.
Among the problems identified by residents were security, tree maintenance, homelessness, speeding motorists and parking on the residential streets near Modesto Junior College.
Todd Aaronson, a member of the steering committee, said the city's initial investment should pay off down the road.
"How do you get the group off the ground without seed money?" he said. "We might be able to get people to contribute money to cover expenses, now that we have a process moving forward."
Hannon expects the funding requests from neighborhood groups will total about $15,000 a year.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.