At the end of budget road in Modesto

Modesto residents Tuesday have their last and best chance to weigh in on $8.9 million in city budget cuts that would result in closed public restrooms, dry fields in parks and fewer firefighters.

The budget reflects a deep drop in revenue to the city's general fund, which pays for public safety, parks and other services that are not tied to monthly utility rates.

Modesto expects to collect $106.2 million for its general fund over the budget year that starts July 1, down $15 million from what the city budgeted a year ago.

The severity of that decline prompted Modesto to reduce the size of its work force, eliminating 76 positions through buyouts, early retirements and layoffs.

More city employees could lose their jobs if the recession continues or if the state attempts to balance its budget by borrowing from local governments.

The budget proposal also calls for $5.8 million in labor concessions, such as mandatory furloughs or delayed raises.

Modesto would have to look elsewhere for savings if the city's unions reject those proposals.

Modesto has been scaling back on its spending for the past two years, managing to balance its budget with a hiring freeze and cuts most residents wouldn't notice.

This year is different, with cutbacks that most residents will see. They include:

— Eliminating a fire rescue truck in north Modesto, a move that allows the city to strike nine firefighting positions. The spots will be vacated through early retirements.

— Eliminating or reducing the use of a downtown fire engine

— Leaving vacant 13 positions in the Police Department

— Shutting restrooms in parks on weekdays

— Reducing park maintenance

— Scaling back on some golf course maintenance and raising green fees to offset a $300,000 loss the city records each year in its golf fund

— Considering raising the price of parking downtown to generate more money for law enforcement costs for Modesto's club scene.

Little room to lobby

In recent years, City Council members had more flexibility to substitute their priorities for Mayor Jim Ridenour's recommendations.

This time, the city's financial outlook remains so grim that council members have had little room to lobby for their issues.

Still, the plan isn't finished.

Representatives from the Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau successfully made a case to retain some of their funding during city budget hearings two weeks ago.

Golfers, likewise, rallied to keep open the nine-hole Municipal Golf Course when Councilman Garrad Marsh floated a plan to shut it.

The City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star