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Council approves hiring additional police officers
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The Turlock City Council voted 3-1 on Tuesday (with Council member Amy Bublak dissenting and Matthew Jacob absent) to hire additional police officers, while putting off all other City department budget augmentation requests.

The Council voted to adopt a status quo budget for the rest of fiscal year 2017-18, which ends in June, and fiscal year 2018-19 — with the exception of $713,800 in additional expenses to hire four police officers (two this year, two next year), two dispatchers, one part-time clerical position; convert two Cadets to two part-time clerical positions; and purchase the safety equipment for the additional officers.

Before the Council approved the additional expenses, the City of Turlock had a projected deficit of $1,047,000 for the current fiscal year and $613,543 in deficit spending for 2018-19. This includes a March 27 vote by the Council (with Bublak dissenting) to hire three additional firefighters at a cost of $72,214 in fiscal year 2017-18 and then an additional $329,688 in 2018-19.

Bublak proposed postponing consideration of any budget augmentation requests until after the new city manager was in place, but she was outvoted.

“I would say as fiscal servants of the tax payers’ money, we should freeze what we have until we have a city manager in place and can start assessing what the needs are. And as we progress in our negotiations, to do any of this is futile in my mind,” said Bublak.

Fire Chief Robert Talloni has been serving as the interim city manager since Gary Hampton left in July 2017. The City is on its second round of recruitment for the top administrative position and is expected to make a hire in the next few weeks.

Council member Bill DeHart said that the challenges the Turlock Police Department is currently facing warrants the additional expense to the budget.

“My personal favorite idea is to adopt a status quo budget, however, I do believe there is a trust that rises above and we need to begin to deal with how we meet that trust. And that is in the number of officers that are fully trained and capable of responding on our streets. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think it does need to start happening,” said DeHart.

The Turlock Police Department has been dealing with critical staffing issues for some time. In February, the City Council approved lateral new hire =bonuses after hearing from Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar and what he described as an impending “calamity” for the city if the department cannot successfully recruit and retain police officers.

The hiring bonus is to be used as a "tool" in the department's recruitment efforts. The police department is also having trouble retaining officers and dispatchers as Turlock pays an average of 20 percent below what neighboring agencies offer, said Amirfar.

The City of Turlock is currently in negotiations with the Turlock Associated Police Officers Association and other city employee unions regarding salaries and benefits.

Following the adoption of the police service staffing augmentations, Mayor Gary Soiseth said the Council would consider at its next meeting budget requests regarding contractual obligations for all City departments.