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City Council considers deficit spending for 2017-18, 2019-20 budgets
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The Turlock City Council received some good news at Friday’s budget workshop about the end of the current fiscal year, but were then tasked with considering how to address the numerous unfunded staffing, equipment and technological needs presented by the City’s department heads.

Higher than projected property taxes mean the City is expected to end the current fiscal year with a $500,000 surplus, rather than the forecasted $347,000 deficit. City Manager Gary Hampton and the finance staff are also projecting a 6 percent growth in City revenues for the next two years.

It’s unclear, however, if the news of the surplus and expected economic growth will convince the City Council to approve proposed expenditures by Hampton and the City’s department directors that would create between $300K and $2 million in deficit spending.

Hampton presented the Council on Friday with a $38.25 million budget that projects $177,000 in deficit spending. He said it is a “status quo” budget that only takes into account economic inflation factors. Each of the City’s department heads then presented the Council with a number of budget augmentation requests.

Those requests were put under four different categories by Hampton, — maintaining current service levels, addressing risk management issues, equipment funding shortfalls or growth initiatives — with an estimated deficit budget.

The City would need to adopt a $391,374 deficit budget to fund all the items under the “maintain current service levels” category. Some of those requests include making a part-time police records technician position and dispatcher position into full time positions, funding overtime for fire personnel training and paying for administrative employees to attend professional conferences.

A $1.5 million deficit budget would allow for maintaining current service levels, while also addressing items in the “risk management” category, including the hiring of a finance manager to provide internal control oversight to mitigate auditor concerns, the addition of two full time police officers for the traffic unit and purchasing body cameras for Turlock’s police officers.

“Turlock has experienced tragedy and the loss of life due to a multitude of different factors coming into play in regards to traffic accidents. Turlock traditionally has had two officers and a sergeant assigned to the traffic unit for a population of 72,000. Prior years, in 2007, we had 86 sworn officers which included four traffic officers. Turlock was once known as the community, don’t go to Turlock and speed, run red lights. Currently, our traffic accidents are exceeding our capabilities in regards to conducting the enforcement that is necessary,” said Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar about the need for two additional traffic officers.

He also emphasized the importance of Turlock’s police force utilizing body camera technology.

“We’re behind the curve in regards to the body camera technology. The City of Turlock enjoys the trust of the public. It has and will continue to enjoy the trust of the public because of the service the police department strives to provide. However, it is imperative that we also continue to build our technology and build those relationships and having the transparency of the body camera footage, although it’s not conclusive all the time, it is an availability that helps bring down complaints and it helps bring down the use of force,” said Amirfar.

Turlock Fire Chief Robert Talloni was also passionate about the need for Turlock’s firefighters to be properly trained and for the City to eventually increase the number of firefighters available on a daily basis.

The hiring of three new firefighters was part of the “growth” projections, however.

The hiring of a Public Facilities Supervisor was moved from the “growth” category to “risk management” by Hampton during Friday’s meeting, as he acknowledged that the situation that exists now — with one person supervising 59 individuals — wasn’t adequate.

Parks, Rec and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder requested the hiring of two more parks maintenance workers, along with a department manager. Currently the City of Turlock has 8.5 full-time maintenance workers for the City’s 185 acres of parks, where comparative cities employ an average of 16 workers, said Van Guilder.

If the Council approves all the items on the augmentation requests, including those under the “growth” category, it would mean $2.07 million in deficit spending for 2017-18.

The Turlock City Council is expected to continue budget discussions at their May 16 meeting, and possibly vote on a proposed budget in early June.