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Council stalls on budget vote
Use of federal COVID recovery, Measure A funds called into question
city of turlock

The Turlock City Council failed to adopt a budget on Tuesday for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, as the they split 2-2 in a vote on the proposed budget with Council member Rebecka Monez absent.

The proposed 2022-23 budget of $51.7 million includes a substantial growth in both expenditures and revenue.  A projected revenue increase of 10% over last year is attributed primarily to property taxes and Measure A funds. The addition of 53 full-time positions and the resulting labor expense accounts for the majority of the new expenditures for 2022-23.

One of the major points of contention within the Council budget is how the remainder of the City’s $15.7 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds is allocated. The City Council has had numerous public discussions and a few community forums to seek input on how to spend the one-time use federal COVID funds. Unlike CARES Act funding, which was intended for local governments to use to respond in the short-term for COVID-19 response, American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used by the City to assist households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries negatively impacted economically by the pandemic. The City can also use Rescue Plan Act funds to invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

“We have some line items that are calling for ARPA funds to be used for salaried positions and I just don’t think that’s good policy for using one-time funds to fund on-going expenses. I know that’s been expressed by my colleagues, but this budget we’re putting forth here is calling for that action,” said Council member Andrew Nosrati.

Nosrati said he also opposed spending ARPA funds on the limited-time garbage fee subsidy and giving $140,000 to Turlock Gospel Mission for homeless services without a form of oversite on how the funds are used and a measure of success.

Council member Nicole Larson also had issues with how ARPA funds are used in the budget, along with the way Measure A funding is being utilized and the lack of allocating cannabis pilot program fees on youth programs.

“Throughout this living document, I think staff has done a really great job of listening to the Council’s priority, the Council being the majority of the voice up here…However, as we’ve gone through this process of anticipating how we’re going to design our fiscal year we’ve had a lot of decisions that have been made that have been in my own opinion, in my Council seat opinion, not in the best interest for the greater population. ARPA being used as funding for positions and we’re using a large amount of funds, over $4 million, to knock only $5 off of our garbage bills rather than creating an actual meaningful, affordable program for low-income or people who are struggling to make ends meet as we increase garbage rates.

“I think it talks to the preparation or the thought that goes into those decisions and the feedback we received that was obviously wanting us to rethink that. Although I want to be an absolute team player in terms of the direction this Council chooses, because it’s going to be the direction, I can’t sit here and act like some of those decisions didn’t have the opportunity to be rediscussed or reevaluated for the betterment of our community.

“We have funds sitting in our cannabis fund that were designed for youth programs, that is still not being designed in this budget when we had a lot of funds to discuss having absolute adequate staff in our Parks department and really smart people at our staff level who can design a fantastic program or even allow for it to be applied for by the community at large with our nonprofits. There was no movement on it and simply because, in my estimations, because it’s coming out of our cannabis pilot program. It’s too bad and disheartening because it has the potential to make a difference in a lot of kids’ lives in our community.

“And we have the most road funds in our entire history as a City. They’re not a lot; they’re not going to get our roads done tomorrow, however, we have an opportunity now to plan with funds that we actually have access to that we can count on. But rather, we are trying to redo our entire road network in a very, very short amount of time that is simply, in my estimations, going to cause a lot of issues and cause a lot of change orders. With that estimation, we have the ability to take a step back and really plan for the long-run rather than trying to address things in the short-term,” said Larson.

Mayor Amy Bublak said that not adopting a budget could become an issue with the State. She also stated that she believes citizens are pleased with the way Measure A funds are being spent.

“The funds that came from Measure A, we already did this. You wanted roads, we put it in roads. You wanted police and fire, we did that. Everything we said we would do, parks, we’re putting it into that. So, to say that people are not happy with Measure A, I hear nothing but that we’re safer, roads are starting to get fixed…,” said Bublak.

The budget will come back before the Council for a vote, most likely at their June 28 meeting.