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City budget process begins
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The Turlock City Council on Tuesday began the process of adopting the 2010-2011 budget – a process they hope to complete on May 10 – by accepting all preliminary non-general fund budgets. 

The unanimous motion adopted those budgets, which primarily deal with rate-based services such as sewer, water, and street lighting. 

Some good news came in the water fund, which is no longer expected to run a deficit in the first year of metered water. A previous, 2009 projection of the change showed increased expenses and growth, coupled with reduced usage. 

“Our predictions are not coming to fruition, which is a good thing at this point,” said Turlock Municipal Services Director Dan Madden. 

However, a water rate increase proposal may still come before the Turlock City Council in the fall should costs increase – or the council opts to construct the proposed $197 million surface water treatment plant, which would ship treated water from the Tuolumne River to households in Turlock, Hughson, Ceres and South Modesto. 

While the non-general fund budgets are generally self-contained, some – like the street lighting fund – are likely to have unavoidable costs which exceed revenues. Those costs then impact the general fund, reducing dollars for discretionary spending. 

Streetlights have long been an issue for the City of Turlock, with a $600,000 hit budgeted to the general fund last year. Suggestions to reduce that hit included turning off streetlights in some areas of Turlock. 

The area has become a major cost for the city in recent years as the state reduces Local Transportation Fund dollars, tied to sales tax, which historically have funded street lighting. This year, an unexpected $234,000 LTF payment helped to offset some of those street lighting costs, but if the state revokes State Transit Assistance funds as expected, it's unlikely Turlock will receive any funds for streets or street lighting. 

City Engineer Mike Pitcock projected that, in a worse-case scenario, Turlock's Fund 134 street lighting liability comes to $800,000. 

“We're trying to give you a real clear picture here, but it's not a pretty picture when it comes to Fund 134,” Pitcock said. 

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.