The City of Turlock will be seeking the public’s help in getting the city budget back on track.
Interim City Manager Michael Cooke informed the City Council at their Jan. 14 meeting that he is putting together a Community Priorities Advisory Committee. The committee will look at policy-level changes and priorities over the next one to five years that could stabilize the General Fund, identify priorities for services and service standards to guide the City Council in making near-term reductions or deferrals of City services and provide guidance on potential new revenue sources.
“It’s an exciting item I think to help us with our transparency moving forward, bringing the people closer to City Hall as we start working on this year’s budget.”
The advisory group will be made up of approximately 20 community members. Members of prior city manager Bob Lawton’s ad hoc fiscal discussion group will be the core members of the new advisory committee, that will also include the Turlock Chamber CEO, a representative from one of Turlock’s major employers, representatives from the Turlock Unified School District and Stanislaus State, and at-large community members with at least one from each Council district chosen by the Interim City Manager.
“What I don’t want to do is set up a political committee. I want this to be a staff and public collaboration without the idea of a potential of being subject to political pressures,” said Cooke.
The committee is expected to start working in February and will meet weekly, with the goal of presenting findings and recommendations to the City Council by April.
“We’re looking at Turlock as a whole, the entire community; it’s very diverse. Some people come in and only care about one thing, well that’s good but you have to put that hat aside and come in and look at Turlock as a whole. That’s going to be important. Individual opinions and ideas are very valued, and that’s how we learn more about each other and get the best ideas, but we’ve got to look at everybody’s opinions and come back to you (the City Council) with a consensus opinion. It’s harder to form a consensus, but I think reasonable people can agree or at least disagree without being disagreeable,” said Cooke about his expectations of the advisory committee.
The advisory committee will have their work cut out for them.
The City of Turlock has been spending down its reserves over the past several years and now it’s at a historically low point going from close to $20 million in 2010/11 to approximately $7 million in 2019.
In June, the Council adopted a budget that resulted in a drastic tightening of the City’s financial belt with significant impacts to what services are provided to Turlock residents.
There are fewer police officers on patrol, less traffic control, fewer firefighters on daily shifts resulting in not as many engines available to respond to fire calls, not as much park maintenance, lack of checks and balances in finance department and reduced customer service time in development and engineering services.
One of the funding sources the advisory group is expected to consider is a new tax. While Turlock brings in quite a bit of sales tax per capita —more than Modesto, Merced, Lodi, Manteca, Clovis, Ceres and Davis — the City does not have a special source of revenue like a sales tax. The majority of surrounding communities have a city-specific sales tax or a utility users’ tax.
In order to get a tax measure on the November 2020 ballot for Turlock residents to consider, the Council will need to make a decision by April on what type of tax measure or measures they would like to put forth so that it can go before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors for approval by June.
Members of the community interested in serving on the advisory committee can fill out an application at the City Clerk’s office, 156 S. Broadway Ste. 230. For more information, call 209-668-5540.