State

Modesto budget sustains youth rec, golf course

Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen on Wednesday tried to adjust a plan calling for $8.9 million in budget cuts but couldn't make ground because her colleagues anticipate an increasingly worse financial picture.

She and her two colleagues on the council's Finance Committee endorsed Mayor Jim Ridenour's budget proposal, sending it to a June vote before the full, seven-member council.

But Olsen sought to save three police officer positions in gang and drug units that she considered her priorities. The posts are vacant because of a hiring freeze in the Police Department.

She looked for cash elsewhere, such as reducing a program that subsidizes recreational programs for kids. Olsen said that money should come from private donors.

"If I have to choose between police officers and that $25,000, I would have to choose police officers," Olsen said.

Councilmen Brad Hawn and Garrad Marsh outvoted her on both counts. They say the Leisure Bucks program that supports youth activities remains important to fund because of the recession.

"It's hitting the areas that most need to be encouraged not to get into other activities, and keep the youth involved in our lower-income areas," Marsh said.

They said it didn't make sense to fill the three police positions because the city's budget picture could worsen in coming months, possibly leading to law enforcement layoffs.

"These are vacant positions right now. I don't want to try to refill police positions today, knowing that we may have to eliminate other positions in a month," Marsh said.

Ridenour has yet to achieve an additional $5.8 million in concessions from labor groups that are critical in balancing the budget. If the city can't reach those agreements, it will look for more cuts.

The state is expected to move to take $3.4 million in funding from Modesto because of the budget shortfall in Sacramento, worsening the city's position.

Also Wednesday, golf advocates persuaded the Finance Committee to keep open the city's nine-hole Municipal Golf Course despite a $300,000 loss Modesto is recording in its golf fund.

Golfers said they'd prefer to pay higher fees to keep open the course, which is gentler than Modesto's two 18-hole courses. They likely will pay an additional $2 for each 18-hole course and an extra $1.50 for nine-hole rounds to help close the gap in golf funding.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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