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More cuts could come for Turlock budget

POSTED June 27, 2009 3:47 p.m.
While Turlock City Council unanimously approved the 2009-2010 fiscal year General Fund budget Tuesday evening, further budget revisions could be imminent given an expected $1 million gap between the council’s approved level of reserve spending and the budget as approved.
“There’s not another $1 million to find in this budget,” said Interim City Manager Gary Hampton. “… If we try to resolve the potential million-dollar shortfall, which in all likelihood will occur, I can tell you it’s going to come from more positions.”
According to Hampton, 12 to 14 positions would need to be cut to balance out expected deficits in transportation and fleet services funds, as well as to offset an anticipated increase in health insurance costs.
Compounding matters, the State of California could withhold an additional $1 million in anticipated Turlock tax revenues as it attempts to address its own $24 billion budget gap. Councilwoman Mary Jackson expressed hope that the League of California Cities would be able to retain that funding for the city, while Councilman Kurt Spycher seemed less positive about such an occurrence.
Hampton advised the council to forego further cuts and to instead utilize an anticipated $250,000 of carryover revenue from the current fiscal year in conjunction with additional borrowing from the city’s $14 million in reserves. The council originally approved spending $2.5 million of its reserves each year for the next three years, so as to survive any extended economic downturn.
“The bill has to be paid,” Spycher said. “We’re not going to dodge it. So we have to figure out if we want to spend up our reserve or find another approach.”
On Spycher’s suggestion, the Budget Subcommittee will continue to meet for the next 60 days to discuss possible avenues to shrink the budget gap, possibly entertaining Vice Mayor Ted Howze’s suggestion of once- or twice-monthly furloughs. Councilwomen Amy Bublak and Jackson stated that they opposed furloughs, which will require meet and agree negotiations with city labor unions.
The approved budget calls for 23 filled positions to be eliminated, including the notable posts of arts facilitator, recreation division manager, and chief building official. Turlock entered the budget process forecasting a $5.1 million General Fund deficit with 80 percent of the budget tied up in personnel costs, making staffing cuts a near necessity.
The largest remaining shortfall comes in the Streets fund, which generates no revenue to pay to power streetlights. The council briefly — but not seriously — discussed the possibility of turning off some lights to reduce costs, but tabled the issue over safety concerns and the relatively insignificant savings the action would generate.
The city managed to retain one engineering technician at the expense of two senior public works inspectors, and will also retain the services of a community housing rehab specialist thanks to a reinterpretation of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.
While the council has largely managed to meet its goals through the current budgetary process, the final budget document is expected to remain in flux throughout the year as council works to fine-tune projected revenues and spending in this constantly shifting economy.
“I’ll be very crystal clear with you here,” Hampton said, “our budgeting strategy is day-by-day.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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