Turlock City Council candidates answered questions from the public on the City’s financial standing, road funding and homelessness among others during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Thursday.
Thursday’s forum was the only event that invited all City Council candidates to answer questions about the issues they might face if elected. Incumbent Bill DeHart and District 3 challenger Andrew Nosrati attended the forum, as well as District 1 candidates Nicole Larson, Forrest White and Jon Boulos. District 1 candidate Autumn Salazar was unable to attend the forum due to a previous commitment, according to the League of Women Voters moderator, and Logan Sisco has pulled out of the race.
The candidates had a chance to list their previous community service experience, how they would stop Stanislaus State graduates from leaving the area, and the role they think the City should play in supporting arts (no surprise, all the candidates support art projects and programs).
The topics they differed on the most were related to the City’s budget situation and what each perceived as the number one priority for the Council.
When asked how the candidates’ prior experience would help them address Turlock’s deficit spending budget issues, White, who served on the City Council from 2010 to 2014, and incumbent DeHart talked about their previous experience working on the City’s budget, while the challengers with no previous time in a municipal elected office touted their business and organizational experiences.
“I came on the Council in 2010, and we were in the midst of a very similar situation; a lot worse, to be quite frank. And what we learned back then is that you can’t solve the problem overnight. You’re never going to be able to cut enough immediately or create revenue immediately. So what needs to be done is you work around the edges. You find new revenue sources. You reevaluate items that were expenses…There are a lot of choices that need to be made and they’re not going to be easy,” said White.
Boulos said he would draw on his experiences as an organizational accountant. The first step, he said, would be to “start to understand the magnitude and the reality of the problem.”
“That experience that I have from various organizations being able to paint a picture and tell the real story with numbers, I think, is the most important place to start,” Boulos continued.
Nosrati said that his position as head of product development for a tech start-up gave him a lot of experience having to rein in his CEO on ideas that weren’t necessarily financially sound in the long run for the company. He also pointed to his experience in creating new revenue streams that make sense for the company.
“We’ve got to be creative and we’ve got to be smart,” said Nosrati about budgeting.
DeHart said that budgeting in the business world is much different than creating a budget for a municipality.
“It’s extremely difficult for a city to generate revenue. Most of our income comes from taxation, whether it’s property taxes, sales tax, other sorts of taxes. Anytime we try to increase those, of course, you should have a say in how that money comes in. The current formulations with both the county and the state really need to be reevaluated,” said DeHart.
Larson drew on her experience as executive officer at Stanislaus State’s Associated Students and the challenges she faced when budgeting for the new student union building.
“We have to make sure to be very, very proactive with our budgeting rather than reactive with our budgeting. That’s a key component when we’re talking about our financial situations at hand. It’s also very important to listen to our city staff, the experts on the situation, and make sure we assess the amount of opportunities we have to explore third-party partnerships,” said Larson.
When it comes to priorities, Nosrati said housing was his number one concern.
“I think it’s something that we sometimes shy away from talking about because it’s such a big issue. But we are in a situation right now where half our population is paying over half their income towards rent. We’ve got to be doing things to help stimulate private development of housing that is most needed in our community,” he said.
“If we address the fundamental needs of the community, they can thrive,” Nosrati continued.
Boulos said he has three priorities: a family focus, fiscal competency as well as responsibility and community empowerment.
“I really want to be there to make sure whatever issue comes up, we are looking at it as is this going to continue to attract and retain young families that are in Turlock,” said Boulos.
White said financial stability is his top priority for the City.
“At the rate we’re going right now, the City will be bankrupt in two years. All these programs, all these things that we want to do we won’t be able to do if we have no money. So, the bottom line is how do we create a financially-stable city. It’s going to be tough decisions,” said White.
Larson said there are short-term concerns and long-term concerns she’d like to take on, if elected, but her priority is Turlock’s rate of growth.
“We’re growing a lot and we have a lot of people who want to land in Turlock because it’s a safe community, we have great industry booming, we have developers that want to build here. I want to make sure we take that on in a really smart way to ensure that we can grown in a way that has everybody involved at the table,” said Larson.
Quality of life, water resources and public safety are DeHart’s priorities.
“Whether it’s housing, whether it’s water, whether it’s public safety, whether it’s food, we seem to be involved in all those areas on an initial basis. But I recall that the water issue is probably the most important area. We start needing to identify what those sources are, which we have. We need to pursue those and we need to do it aggressively, and we are,” said DeHart.
For more information about the Turlock City Council candidates, check out the Journal’s 2018 Election Tab at: www.turlockjournal.com/special-pubs/election-tab/