Mayor Gary Soiseth's recommended budget was adopted by the Turlock City Council in a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening. Council member Steven Nascimento cast the lone dissenting vote after stating concerns over what he felt was excessive spending in the Mayor's proposal.
"As much as I see a need for some of these items, I can't support the level of spending that we're proposing here," said Nascimento on Tuesday evening. "I think this council has been served very well by prior councils being very frugal and leaving us a reserve to be able to do some of these things and I want to return that favor to future councils, which is why I have concerns with us spending down our reserves and taking on new spending initiatives that will burden the General Fund going forward."
The Mayor's now adopted budget of $35.5 million for fiscal year 2015-16 and $35.7 million in 2016-17 includes roughly $400,000 in deficit spending with paying off debt as one of his main priorities. The City has an outstanding collective balance of nearly $5.5 million between the fire and police departments' Public Employees' Retirement System. With an interest rate of 7.5 percent accruing, the budget includes paying off this debt upfront through various means such as using the proceeds from the sale of the old 900 N. Palm police station in addition to utilizing roughly $3 million from the General Fund Reserve. By paying off the unfunded liabilities, the City will save roughly $615,000 a year said Soiseth.
"While General Funds will be required to pay off this debt, the General Fund Reserve will continue to maintain a $6.5M 'hard reserve' for emergencies and will have an additional General Fund reserve of approximately $1,300,000 for a total General Fund Reserve of approximately $7.8M as of July 1, 2015," stated Soiseth in a release in late May.
Nascimento took issue with the City toeing the line of the $6.5 million reserve, the mandated emergency amount the City must retain and with which special action would needed should the City want to dip below that number. The City should show more of a plan to repay those reserves expressed Nascimento, noting that more spending restraint would be prudent in the long run should another potential downturn in the economy take place.
"It makes it difficult for me to support spending those $3 million dollar of our reserves because, without a plan of how we're going to repay that, to me it is not necessarily a budget, it's a spending plan," said Nascimento.
In response, Soiseth stated that he respects the $6.5 million hard reserve, and once the sale of the 900 N. Palm building comes through the City will have roughly $7.9 million in reserves.
"We will be addressing the replenishing of the General Fund reserve and how we will take the roughly $615,000 savings per year from interest payments we won't be making and how we will replenish that General Fund reserve. So there is a plan and it isn't spending," said Soiseth.
Other priorities of the Mayor's include adding $50,000 to the City's pothole repair efforts for "crack seal" road improvements, creating a low-income tree maintenance program, utilizing just over $600,000 to make various sidewalks and ramps in Turlock compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and investing in lighting infrastructure at Pedretti Park. Establishing a K-9 unit for the Turlock Police Department has also been a topic of discussion, expressed as a priority for many council members.
"One thing I would like to point out - the reason I'm willing to second (the motion) - is because you did mention that we're going to be bringing items back for discussion including the addition of a K-9 unit," said Council member Matthew Jacob Tuesday evening.
Nascimento agreed with prioritizing this item as well.
In July and August Soiseth intends to discuss the addition of the K-9 unit along with how the City will use its interest savings as well as an update to the City's website. Ladder truck staffing will be discussed no later than September as well as sidewalk and tree maintenance issues. In that same month the Stanislaus Council of Government's road tax proposal and the City's direction for its communications and marketing strategy will be addressed. Soiseth will also entertain amendments to the budget at the first meeting in November. In the spirit of compromise, Council member Amy Bublak noted changes may occur in upcoming weeks and are a natural part of the process.
"This is a first time that we are going for a two-year budget and I'm sure no one here at the dais believes that we're not going to have to face (the budget) sometime in the next six months and tweak it a bit for whatever reason."
Also on Tuesday:
• Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder said that the City will be limiting its spray park hours further for conservation measures. Spray parks will now be open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week compared to the previous hours of 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. The opening of the Turlock High School, Pitman High School and Columbia Park pools on June 15 should help augment the limited hours. Although the pools do charge a small fee, free swim passes are available at the City.
• Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke announced that the City will be removing its bill drop box located in front of the Turlock Irrigation District on Canal Drive. With only 10 percent of customers using the box and the lag in processing time, the City now be collecting bills at a drop box on A Street starting July 1.
• The Mayor announced that he will be establishing an ad hoc subcommittee at the next Council meeting to address sidewalk repairs and tree issues. Two members from the Council will serve on the committee.