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City finds savings without layoffs; $3.7 million deficit remains

Police canine unit eliminated

POSTED June 14, 2011 10:44 p.m.

When the Turlock City Council passed their 2010 budget, then the second straight year of deep spending reductions, department heads said there was no more to be cut.

But those department heads sharpened their pencils and cut $1.6 million from the city’s final 2011-2012 General Fund budget, adopted Tuesday by unanimous vote of the Turlock City Council.

“We took an approach this year of, ‘Go back through the budget, and if you can avoid the expenditure, avoid the expenditure,’” said Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden. “That effort has resulted in a number of changes from the original status quo budget.”

The savings will come without layoffs, for the most part. One Community Service Officer who would have been reassigned to serve as a dispatcher declined the transfer, and will discontinue employment with the City of Turlock.

The move will eliminate the police canine program, due to the dogs reaching the end of their service life. Rather than replace the dogs at the moment, a $54,404 cost, Turlock will cease its program, relying on Stanislaus County and City of Modesto canine units. The program could one day return, however.

Also resulting in savings for the City of Turlock were:

•             $45,731 – general reduction from the City Council department

•             $159,605 – delay hiring Assistant City Manager

•             $50,000 – reduce City Clerk contract services

•             $10,000 – reduce City Attorney contract services

•             $43,957 – reduction in building janitorial

•             $4,800 – reduction in alarm services

•             $11,153 – reduction in LAFCO membership

•             $140,409 – transfer two facilities employees to non-general fund vacancies

•             $209,718 – transfer three parks employees into non-general fund vacancies

•             $116,890 – eliminate one secretary and one office assistant from Facilities, Parks, and Recreation.

•             $100,386 – eliminate one senior supervisor from Facilities, Parks, and Recreation.

•             $160,000 – reduction in fire department overtime due to a grant

•             $45,000 – reduction in contracted services, materials, and supplies for the Turlock Police Department

•             $176,626 – reappoint two non-sworn personnel to Dispatch, and freeze two Community Service Officer positions

•             $300,000 – combine police and fire support operations divisions

•             $40,000 – shared facilities for police and fire administration.

Hampton expressed his hopes the budget cuts wouldn’t have “dramatic” effects on service levels, but noted there would be effects.

With three years of consecutive cuts, Turlock’s departments are now “skeleton crews,” many department heads said. More than 90 percent of the Turlock Police Department budget is now occupied by personnel costs, leaving little room to trim further.

“There are no more magic rabbits in the hat,” said Police Chief Gary Hampton. “We’re done. ... There’s no more lemonade to be made from lemons. We’re finished. A fourth year of reductions would absolutely be all staff.”

 

Future still hazy

Despite the savings found, the City of Turlock remains $3.7 million in deficit, based on Tuesday’s approved budget. Turlock had originally budgeted for just $1.5 million in deficit spending, from the city’s $12.9 million General Fund reserve.

The city hopes to close the $2.2 million gap – at least partially – through employee concessions, obtained through negotiations with its unions. Those negotiations are ongoing, Wasden said, and should be completed by the beginning of the new budget year, July 1.

Outside labor negotiations, Turlock still faces a number of budgetary challenges. Health care costs are budgeted for a four percent increase, a figure which may end up being overly optimistic. Transportation fees, particularly for the city’s street lighting, have dried up at the state level, leaving Turlock facing a $560,000 burden to keep the lights on – even after installing more energy efficient induction lamps.

But by far the biggest challenge remains the state budget, still un-adopted and unclear.

 “We’re going to go forward tonight and adopt a budget with no clear picture on what the state is going to do in a number of areas,” Wasden said. “State action could cause us to be back here in fairly short order with major revisions to the budget.”

Councilwoman Mary Jackson expressed hope that the state budget would be passed soon – if for no other reason than lawmakers face an impending deadline to pass a budget, or receive no further pay.

And she also expressed hope that Turlock will be able to avoid a devastating fourth consecutive year of cuts, bolstered by a turnaround in the economy.

“I am optimistic that it’s going to turn around, and I hope that we cannot dip into our General Fund reserve next year,” Jackson said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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