Modesto wants to spend tax increase on parks, trees, police


City Park Ranger Ivonne Salamanca and Community Health and Assistance Team Specialist Veda Malone arrange for a homeless person to be taken to the emergency shelter in Modesto, California on Friday, January 27, 2023.

City Park Ranger Ivonne Salamanca and Community Health and Assistance Team Specialist Veda Malone arrange for a homeless person to be taken to the emergency shelter in Modesto, California on Friday, January 27, 2023.

Modesto’s proposed spending plan for the first full year of revenue from Measure H, the voter-approved 1% sales tax, focuses on improving residents’ quality of life.

City officials last week reported $26.1 million in Measure H spending for Modesto’s 2023-24 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The expenses include:

$10.1 million for Parks and Recreation. Some of the projects include replacing the playgrounds in eight parks, replacing three park bathrooms, refurbishing the Maddux Youth Center in Cesar Chavez Park, increasing the watering of the parks from two to three times a week, upgrading security lighting in four parks and renovating tennis courts in five parks and sealing and stripping of basketball and volleyball courts in 11 parks.

$6.2 million for the police. Some of the spending includes hiring four more park rangers, bringing the total to 12, hiring five additional community service officers, hiring an additional animal control officer, hiring a civilian investigator to handle missing persons cases, and upgrading and adding more cameras to the downtown entertainment center. The department has 210 sworn officers and about 20 vacancies. The department has struggled to fill its police officer positions for about a decade.

$4.9 million for public works. Some of the projects include the addition of a tree pruning team and a forestry team to help with the city tree maintenance backlog. This includes hiring a contractor for $1.55 million to help pruning city trees and hiring another contractor for $1.8 million to repair sidewalks, curbs damaged by tree roots at about 500 locations​ and repair gutters.

$4.1 million for the fire department. This includes providing $3 million for the eventual replacement of the 84-year-old downtown #1 Fire Station and $1 million to improve the department’s advanced life support service through its paramedics.

There is also approximately $1.7 million in additional Measure H spending in several other city departments, including nearly $152,000 for hiring two additional code enforcement officers and nearly $262,000 for the prosecutor’s office for hiring an additional assistant city attorney and legal secretary to prosecute community code violations related to illegal dumping, graffiti, rotting and nuisance.

Modesto voters approved Measure H in the November 8 election. The VAT increase came into effect on April 1st.

Measure H is expected to contribute $41.9 million to the city’s general fund budget in fiscal year 2023-24, which will primarily pay for public safety and other essential services. Excluding Measure H funding, the city expects the 2023-24 general fund to be approximately $184 million. The city expects its total operating budget for 2023-24 to be nearly $526 million.

The city also expects to receive $10 million from Measure H in the last quarter of its current fiscal year, April 1 through June 30. The City Council has allocated $4.5 million of that for public safety, homelessness, parks, and fighting rot, leaving $5.5 million in bequest.

Closing the structural deficit

The city expects to use at least $6.2 million from Measure H to close the 2023-24 general fund structural deficit. The city said the fund runs an annual deficit because while its revenue is growing, it’s not growing as fast as its expenses. Expenses are primarily employee compensation, including wages, benefits and pensions.

Modesto anticipates that approximately $14 million will remain from Measure H in 2023-24. The city is proposing to set aside the money to cover future maintenance costs of the Measure H projects it intends to carry out in the coming fiscal year. The projects include the eight new playgrounds and three new park pools.

City officials discussed spending on Measure H at the City Council Finance Committee budget workshops held last week.

Measure H is a general tax, so Modesto can spend it on any of his services. But City Manager Joe Lopez said at the workshops it’s important to highlight how Modesto plans to spend the tax to show the public it’s spending it as advertised to address homelessness, rot, parks, public safety and other fundamentals.

The city is also in the process of forming a nine-member Citizens Oversight Board to oversee how the city spends the sales tax hike.

City Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed 2023-24 budget in late May and then approve the budget in June.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general responsibilities for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University.