Modesto mayor says 'No more standing still' in final state-of-city speech

In a speech in which he repeated the refrain, “No more standing still," Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour called for writing a new chapter for a city suffering from the effects of recession.

About 400 people heard the mayor’s final state-of-the-city address Thursday at a Modesto Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the DoubleTree Hotel. The mayor will be termed out at year’s end.

Ridenour will spend his last year in office working on challenging issues such as budget shortfalls, rising employee retirement costs and the need to address a staggering unemployment rate.

Modesto has fared better than other cities. It ended the last fiscal year with a $3 million increase in city reserves, the mayor pointed out. Through employee furloughs and positions cuts, the city has bridged the gap between expenses and declining revenues.

But more challenges lie ahead.

City negotiators are trying to convince labor groups to accept permanent changes to pension and retiree health benefits. The city is trying to move in the direction of lesser pension benefits for new hires, higher retirement ages and employees contributing more for retirement benefits.

“Wages and benefits account for 75 percent of the general fund budget, an amount that is simply not sustainable,” Ridenour said. “It never was, and never will be. We have no choice but to address it aggressively.

The mayor also told of an all-day meeting of department directors last week to discuss a two-year, $15 million budget shortfall. They identified $10 million in spending reductions and cost savings. The mayor did not disclose details of the possible cuts.

Ridenour criticized a much-debated element of Gov. Jerry Brown’s state budget proposal, which would eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones. The proposal “makes absolutely no sense,” he said, adding that redevelopment spurs job growth and provides public infrastructure and affordable housing.

Editor's note: We'll publish a longer version of this story later today and in The Bee on Saturday. To read the text of the mayor's prepared remarks, click the link at left.