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Council allocates dwindling reserves for COVID-19 response
city of turlock

The Turlock City Council approved spending $500,000 out the City’s General Fund Reserves to allow public safety and other departments respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The outbreak of COVID-19 that has crippled large cities throughout the United States and the world has spread across the state and to local municipalities. With the Governor of California and then the President of the United States declaring states of emergency, the City of Turlock has responded.

Interim City Manager Michael Cooke (serving as the Director of Emergency Services) issued a Proclamation of Existence of a Local Emergency on March 17, and the City Council ratified the proclamation on March 24. According to Cooke, proclaiming a local emergency is a prerequisite for requesting and receiving any available federal or state funding and for local businesses to apply for any disaster grants.

The City of Turlock initiated its Emergency Operations Center on March 19, with Interim Fire Chief Gary Carlson serving as the City’s EOC director. With the opening of the EOC, City departments are incurring unforeseen expenses, mainly in staff overtime costs.

During the last City Council meeting, City staff had requested allocating money out of the General Fund Reserves to compensate for the expenses related to COVID-19 response, with the expectation that most, if not all, of it would be reimbursed by state and/or federal disaster funds.

“The City will come into additional expenses that we hadn’t anticipated in our budget as part of our response to COVID-19. So, as you know, we have a very tight budget. It’s balanced right now, but quite frankly, we have a lot of people putting a lot of additional hours in responding to the crisis in coordination with Stanislaus County. Those things cost money; additional supplies will be needed, additional part-time staff may be needed,” said Cooke.

While City staff originally requested $200,000, with the caveat that they would most likely be returning to Council with a need of increasing the amount, Mayor Amy Bublak suggested increasing the amount to $500,000.

“This is what our reserve is for. When times are bad, we’ve got to put things together to prepare for our city to be taken care of. When you look at the EOC that we have, we also work in conjunction with the county, the state and the feds, but we made a commitment to be there for our community so we need to do what we need to do to be prepared,” said Mayor Bublak.

The Council 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 today. However, Cooke assured the Council that everything is being done in order to get the COVID-19 response funds reimbursed.

“One of our first actions was to create a finance group…so we can track our time, resources and materials to make sure everything is documented so we can submit for reimbursement,” he added. “There are no guarantees, but we’re doing all we can in this state of emergency to put us in a good position to claim reimbursements if they’re available.”