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City Council adopts budget policy

POSTED April 20, 2010 11:57 p.m.
The Turlock City Council adopted a plan on April 13 that calls for the city to investigate a two-year budgetary cycle — a change in practice from the year-by-year budgets of the past — but stopped short of deciding how a committee will meet to work out that budget.
The decision to look at a 24-month budget, which would bring all costs in line with the city’s income, was universally supported.
The sticking point was how Mayor John Lazar and Councilman Ted Howze will meet with city staff to hammer out the details of that budget before bringing a proposal to the entire council.
Per California law, a subset of the council can meet in either an ad hoc committee — which is not subject to open meeting laws — or as a standing committee — which would be required to conduct all business in compliance with the Brown Act.
Two members of the public advocated a draft budget entirely developed by city staff, which would then be discussed in regular council meetings. Council did not discuss the idea further.
Lazar and Councilwoman Mary Jackson were in full support of open meetings, but Howze expressed concern about noticing meeting schedules — a requirement of the Brown Act — due to his busy schedule as a veterinarian. Howze also questioned whether budget meetings might waste the public’s time with the off-the-wall ideas that often get floated during budget discussions.
Lazar and Howze alike worried that meetings with public comment periods — another Brown Act requirement — may drag on for unproductive hours.
Council seemed to solidify behind the idea of meetings which are open to the public but do not allow public comment, but a hybrid between ad hoc and standing committees does not exist under state law. According to City Attorney Phaedra Norton, the council may be able to hold ad hoc meetings in a public space, where Turlockers could observe the proceedings but not participate.
The council ultimately decided to hold a special meeting of the entire council to kick off the budget discussion in the coming weeks, at which time details of the committee will be hammered out. The final budget will be brought forward by the May 11 council meeting.

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