Tuesday marked the end of Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth’s workshop series dedicated to reviewing City services as part of his 100-day commitment.
“It’s a little bittersweet looking at the empty workshop table,” said Soiseth Tuesday evening. “I thought [the workshops] were very successful and they were very informative and they will put us starting off on the right foot going forward.”
In the past four months City Council members and staff have discussed the state of Turlock’s municipal services, roads, Police and Fire services, Building Department procedures, and more.
The final workshop was reminiscent of the first meeting held in January as both were an examination of the City’s Strategic Plan, the document that outlines goals for the City. While the January meeting served as a cursory overview, Tuesday evening City staff took turns vocalizing amendments to the 2013-2015 strategic plan so as to lay a foundation for the new council’s plan.
Soiseth also instated a change: the strategic plan will now be a four year document instead of a two year document. There will be a two year review period for the plan after the next election for the new council as it will be the inaugural district election format for Turlock.
While the meeting on Tuesday discussed all aspects of city government, Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore kicked off the workshop with an overview of the City’s General Plan. This plan, which sets the policy and vision for the City, is nested with the Strategic Plan said Soiseth.
According to Whitmore, Turlock has grown fairly fast over the past several decades and the town currently has 70,000 residents.
“The General Plan provides for us to grow to 105,000 people in the next 20 years,” she said.
With growth on the horizon, Council Member Bill DeHart urged the Fire Department to consider Turlock’s potential vertical growth in future years and the complications this could unleash. He pointed to the existing multi-level structures in town like Covenant Village retirement community and Emanuel Medical Center, and noted increasing density in areas like downtown should be kept under close watch.
DeHart also brought attention to the way Turlock is perceived, noting that the town ought to have a billboard or sign along Highway 99 denoting that drivers are passing through the town.
“We’re not capitalizing on the fact that we’re here,” said DeHart.
Infill, or development in existing neighborhoods, was also a topic of conversation Tuesday evening as the City has seen an optimistic rise in this type of development. City Engineer Mike Pitcock also said that the City is also aiming to “improve the entrance into this community” by working Stanislaus County government to provide residents on the fringe of town, or in county corridors, a quality experience.
“One of the great things about being in the City is that you have all of the infrastructure that the City provides and what we see is an interest of the community that are just surrounding the City to utilize our City services,” said Pitcock. “We want to see that development to mirror what we would expect a developer in our community to do, so we’ve been pushing that.”
Council Member Amy Bublak stated that now would be a good time for the City to review existing contracts to ensure they are in compliance and Council Member Steven Nascimento said it would be prudent to examine existing debts as well.
“If we’re talking about fiscal responsibility I think it’s important that we should be looking at our debt payment obligations and unfunded liabilities and have a plan to deal with those going forward,” said Nascimento. “I think it would behoove us to sort of identify what it is that’s lingering out there, develop a plan of action, and maybe bring that back to council to have an opportunity to address those issues.”
Nascimento has been serving on the City’s committee that has been reviewing the City of Turlock budget. The budget and the strategic plan are crafted in tandem, something Soiseth likened to a “three-legged race,” and both are slated to be adopted in late May or early June.
The Council and staff’s commitment to developing the City of Turlock’s Strategic Plan was perhaps best synthesized in Police Chief Rob Jackson’s remark Tuesday evening:
“It’s great to have priorities and things, but if you don’t have goals and objectives that are attainable it’s really just a document,” said Jackson.