RIPON - The prospect of a citizen volunteer corps may be one answer for a limping Ripon city government operation that has lost much of its general fund income to the State of California.
Ripon’s highly bruised city budget is beginning to reflect its lack of manpower from visible cracks in the street to its upkeep in the parks as well as reduced police services and discontinued summer recreation programs.
The city already has a few volunteers in place but council members are hoping for more to take up the slack mainly in the streets and parks departments where the lack of attention to cracks in the streets, watering and caring for landscaping is beginning to be more noticeable.
Some 50 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) have already volunteered their time to upgrade a dozen “Tot Lot” park play areas.
“They saved us a lot of time and energy (in manpower) we didn’t have time for,” said Ted Johnston, director of the city public works department.
Mayor Chuck Winn had requested city department heads to speak before the council at its Tuesday night meeting as to how their individual divisions are weathering the economic downturn in the economy.
“I’m hoping this fiscal year we can start rehiring,” Winn said.
“May and June looked pretty good. The first five months of the fiscal year (beginning July 1) can be pretty bleak until you get replenished by the state and the county. I hope by January or February at the latest we can bring back our laid off employees,” the mayor said.
Lt. Ed Ormonde, who becomes interim police chief August 20 on the retirement of Chief Richard Bull, noted that there currently are fewer officers available to respond to calls for service. He said his department has seen an increase in calls and extended response times.
“Traffic accidents have increased as traffic citations have decreased due to the volume of calls and the number of incidents handled by officers,” Ormonde said.
Financial and property crimes have also experienced some delays in response times due to reassignment of two detectives. The police department’s front counter availability has also had its hours cut for lifescan/fingerprinting services. The counter is being manned on a part-time basis by a volunteer.
The hours of operation at the animal control center have also been reduced and there have been fewer stray and wild animal traps given out to the public, Ormonde added. The police department administrative and supervisory staffs have also taken on additional duties that take time away from their primary roles as supervisors, he said.
The Ripon Police Department currently has two grants from the state Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) that will end after September. Currently the OTS-funded operations provide approximately $20,000 to $27,000 in overtime per each quarter of the year.
“These operations have allowed us to have multiple officers on and working special enforcement. When the grants are completed, those funds will no longer be available and those operations will most likely cease,” Ormonde said. “This means that fewer offices will be on the street,” he added.
care of ‘Tot Lot’ parks
Public works director Ted Johnston said the first real outreach for public volunteers is going to be looking for citizens who are willing to maintain the many “Tot Lots” in the city park system.
He said the council needs a commitment for service from willing citizens on a regular basis for the small parks’ upkeep. A sign will be erected at those parks telling the community who is actually taking care of the property.
In addition to the mowing and weeding of the little parks, caring members of the community are being sought for graffiti cleanup and for those who have specific skills they can offer to the city.
The public works department has had to cut 10 full-time employees, one retired full-time employee and one full-time employee who was out on a disability and has not been replaced.
Currently the water and wastewater division has one working foreman and four maintenance workers. In the refuse collection and fleet maintenance area, there is one working foreman-mechanic, one maintenance worker-mechanic and four maintenance workers who also serve as route drivers.
Six employees attempt to fill the needs in the streets and building maintenance section and nine are in maintenance for both parks and landscaping. Two hourly high school students who washed vehicles and two summer college students working in the park and landscape maintenance have also been dismissed.
Johnston said that refuse collections are not being completed on time due to the lack of manpower and the challenge becomes even greater when employees take vacation time off.
Street painting and striping, usually done all summer long, is just now being started and only on a couple days a week rather than on a full-time basis, he added.
Chasing potholes in the streets is another challenge for the city crews as the roadways are “rapidly getting worse,” Johnston lamented.
“We just don’t have time to get out there and do it like we should,” Johnston said.
dropped due to money
City Recreation Department Director Kye Stevens noted that a number of programs that were not paying for themselves had to be discontinued due to lack of available funding. Ladies softball, open gyms and dance classes along with city-sponsored trips to plays and musicals in San Francisco, as well as sporting events.
City Clerk Lynette Van Laar pointed out that the finance and secretarial staffs were already thinly staffed prior to the budget cuts. She noted that there is mainly one person assigned to each separate duty.
“One does payroll, one does cash receipts and utility billing, one person does accounts payable and business licenses. Jean Hall is the council secretary and does the web page and filing. Sarah Hollanders is the receptionist and Sarah DelaCruz is the public works secretary,” she said. “We are at our minimum right now. We do have a couple of other secretaries for their departments,” she added.