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City Council: Grassroots fundraising, cannabis revenue could fund pool project
Council appoints new city attorney
columbia pool project
On Feb. 9, the City Council approved a Columbia Park Pool renovation plan which would fix violations and return the pool and splash pad to a usable condition.

The Turlock City Council earlier this month agreed on a $1.8 million plan to restore the Columbia Park pool and splash pad, but the project’s exact cost and how it will be funded are still to be determined following Tuesday night’s meeting. 

While the pool is currently closed due to COVID, a facility evaluation study conducted in 2019 found a total of 18 violations which would keep the pool shut down even without a pandemic. Since the swimming pool was first built in 1957, it has undergone minor renovations and facility updates. The pool has only been replastered once, in 1999.

On Feb. 9, the City Council approved a renovation plan which would fix those violations and return the pool and splash pad to a usable condition. In selecting the $1.8 million plan, which does not account for necessary ADA improvements, the Council chose to forgo two, more expensive options — one which would have removed the pool entirely and added a larger splash pad for $2.5 million, and another which would have seen the existing pool and splash pad upgraded, along with updated equipment, restrooms, locker rooms and parking for $6.3 million. 

The project doesn’t qualify for any grant funding, so the Council directed City staff to return on Tuesday with funding ideas for the pool renovation. On Feb. 9, Interim City Manager Gary Hampton had suggested that the Council could authorize a no-interest loan from General Fund unassigned reserves to be paid back with revenue from Turlock’s new cannabis dispensaries.

While that was the main funding option considered by the Council on Tuesday, Van Guilder also provided other potential methods which included repaying the loan with Measure A sales tax revenue and bolstering the effort with funding from the ADA Reserve Account and/or community fundraising. A resolution on funding was not passed during the meeting, however, Vice Mayor Pam Franco vocalized concern over the total cost of the project, which won’t be finalized until plans are drawn up, and said the Council should prioritize pinning down its exact cost before committing to a loan.

“It seems to me like we’re putting the cart before the horse. How can we budget for something that we don't even know what the cost is going to be?” Franco said. “I want nothing more than to see this pool open and open as soon as possible to get those kids in the pool, but we also have to be cognizant of how much we’re spending and what we’re spending it for.”

Additionally, the Council also considered resolutions to pay O’Dell Engineering Inc. of Modesto $160,000 for design and engineering services for the project as well as appropriate $175,000 to have the project fully designed and engineers with ADA improvements included. 

Rather than move forward with O’Dell, Franco motioned to put the project out to bid through an RFP process. 

“How do we know that our current engineer’s estimate is the best one if we don't have anything to compare it to?” Franco asked. 

The RFP process will add just over two months to the expected completion of the project, which could have been open by next summer had O’Dell jumped right into the design process.

Franco’s motion for the RFP was the only motion approved during the meeting and passed in a split vote 3-2, with Council members Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson dissenting. Nosrati also put forward a motion of his own calling for the City to dollar match community fundraising efforts for the project up to $900,000, but it failed 1-4 with Nosrati voting “yes.”

A fourth resolution considered by the Council called for them to authorize a fundraising campaign, but Mayor Amy Bublak shot down the idea of having the City involved with any such efforts due to staff workload. 

Bublak said there are countless community members willing to organize fundraising efforts, and that the funds can be accepted by the City Council as donations, as is often done with police and fire. 

“We know this community will rally together no matter what,” Bublak said.

Also on Tuesday, the Council:

·         Approved an agreement between the City of Turlock and Petrulakis Law & Advocacy to provide interim city attorney services, effective Feb. 24. Petrulakis will take over for the firm Churchwell White, which tendered a resignation during a special meeting held Jan. 7.

The agreement between the City of Turlock and Petrulakis sets an hourly rate for general legal services of $300 and a reimbursable legal services rate of $350 (used for developer-funded land use projects).

The agreement was approved by a split decision of the Council with Council members Nicole Larson and Nicole Larson opposing. Larson, along with members of the public who called into the meeting, cited Petrulakis’ lack of experience in municipal law as their reason for opposing the land use attorney’s appointment.

“Although I believe Mr. Petrulakis is an excellent attorney in his current field, and I appreciate his willingness to step up during a time of yet again unstable level of administrative positions that we are putting ourselves into, his practice area just simply isn’t municipal law. The lawyers that we see at the dais and the public interacts with are only the surface of the legal needs that are across our departments…there’s a whole breadth of legal needs across the city that aren’t seen in our meetings every other Tuesday. I still believe there are significantly less expensive options than appointing an acting city attorney with no city experience because everything will be outsourced to other firms and we will be subject to those rates that we can’t control because we’re not creating those agreements,” said Larson.

“For a city our size, I find it concerting that we be paying more for less legal services. It would be unfair to Mr. Petrulakis and our City to expect him to perform the same amount of legal services that we are receiving from Churchwell White’s team of multiple legal attorneys…,” continued Larson.

Council members Rebecka Monez and Pam Franco both stated that they believe Petrulakis’ services — along with new policies on access to city attorney services internally at City Hall — will result in fewer attorney fees than was accumulated in the previous year. The City of Turlock paid approximately $415,000 in general attorney services in 2020.

·         Authorized the City of Turlock to use CARES Act funds to support public safety through the temporary reassignment of two School Resource Officers to patrol and for overtime pay to ensure minimum staffing levels in the Turlock Fire Department.

The City of Turlock received over $2.5 million as federal assistance form the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Payroll expenses for public safety, whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency have been determined to be appropriate use of CARES Act funds.

Council approved this with a 4-1 vote, with Council member Monez opposing.

— Journal editor Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.