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Despite budget cuts, Turlock sees busy project year
Debely ceremony pic1
The Pitman High and Turlock High mascots cut the ribbon for the newly renovated Joe Debely Stadium at Turlock High in September 2010. - photo by Journal file photo

For most jurisdictions, 2010 was a time of budget cuts and austerity. But thanks to a healthy General Fund Reserve, federal stimulus funds, and union concessions, the City of Turlock was able to avoid layoffs and start new projects.

The Turlock City Council faced a $5.5 million budget deficit at the start of negotiations, but was able to drop the deficit to $3.6 million by June’s budget adoption. Savings came primarily from a more than $1 million revision to a city policy that overfunded self-insurance accounts for workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Other savings came through retirements, some spending reductions, and insurance changes – including the elimination of health insurance for elected officials, saving $90,000 and funding the endangered recreational swim program.

City unions helped drop that budget deficit further in September, when all labor groups agreed to concessions which saved an additional $864,319, cutting the deficit to $2.7 million. The savings came through an effective 5 percent pay cut for all employees, either through increased employee contribution to medical insurance or retirement costs. The unions were under no obligation to consider further concessions until June 2011.

Perhaps even more surprising, in 2010 – a year feared for projected, massive budget cuts – the City of Turlock achieved major redevelopment projects, even as the state stole city funding.

On May 10, the State of California forced the City of Turlock to pay $3.3 million in Redevelopment Agency funds to the county auditor, who was then forced to redistribute the money to local school districts in lieu of the state’s obligation. The California Redevelopment Association filed suit to stop the take, which they said violated the California Constitution’s allowed uses of RDA funds, but the move was upheld in Sacramento Superior Court in May. The take is still under appeal.

Even with the taking, however, the Turlock RDA had a busy project year, building new improvements around town.

Joe Debely rebuilt

On Aug. 26, the renovated Joe Debely Stadium at Turlock High School reopened to the public with a new all-weather track and artificial turf field. The makeover, approved in 2009 but started in April, was funded by a controversial $2.8 million RDA payment to the Turlock Unified School District.

A group of stadium neighbors filed suit opposing the plan in late 2009, arguing the project was an illegal use of RDA funding and initially naming City Council members who voted for the project among the defendants.

While some neighbors opposed the plan, the Turlock High School Bulldogs football team put their home field – which they share with the Pitman High Pride – to good use in its first year. The Bulldogs rebounded from a 0-10 2009 season to finish 8-3 and make the California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs in their first year at the new field. The Pride had a successful year as well, finishing 7-4 and also making the playoffs.

Carnegie reconstruction approved

On April 16, the Turlock City Council approved a RDA project more than five years in the making: The reconstruction of the Carnegie Arts Center, destroyed in a November 2005 arson fire.

Council members had been concerned about ongoing costs related to the operation and maintenance of the 18,360 square-foot facility, delaying a vote on construction. But a compromise was reached where the Carnegie Arts Foundation would run the facility as long as the City of Turlock built it.

Ground was broken May 21 on the $5.1 million project to reconstruct the burned out shell of the old Carnegie Library while adding a new building with additional gallery space and multi-purpose rooms. The construction bids came in $2.7 million below city estimates, allaying some concerns about the project’s price, as well.

Upon completion, projected for summer 2011, the Carnegie Arts Center will host plays, concerts, and banquets almost every week of the year. It will also become a focal point of downtown Turlock according to supporters, providing much-needed entertainment and revitalizing a dilapidated corner of town.

Water feature, Canal Drive completed

In 2010, the City of Turlock also built a new water feature at Columbia Park, similar to the previously existing play area at Broadway Park. The facility has been a major success since its May opening, drawing visitors from around the county.

And perhaps most importantly to Turlockers, who frequently cite the city’s poor roads as problem number one with Turlock, Canal Drive was repaved in 2010. Oft noted as the city’s worst road, $2 million in federal stimulus dollars went to a near-total rebuilding of the road this summer.

While Canal’s repaving is an upgrade, many of Turlock’s roads still need similar rehabilitation. A 2008 study showed Turlock would need to spend about $145 million through 2013 to maintain streets at a good level. Only about $1 million was budgeted for street rehabilitation in 2010, outside of the Canal Drive project.

Public Safety Facility on hold, other projects on tap

The one project which failed to get off the ground in 2010 was also the largest proposed – a $27 million, two-story, 57,570 square foot future home of Turlock’s police and fire departments.

When opened in November, bids came in higher than projected for the Public Safety Facility, for which $24 million in funding had been identified.

The city continues to pursue a means of funding the project, which is planned for a 4.6 acre site adjacent to the rebuilt Carnegie Arts Center. As the project will require additional bonding, the city also remains in negotiations with other taxing entities – including the Turlock Rural Fire Department, the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District and Yosemite Community College District – that are entitled to a share of passthrough tax dollars through subordination agreements. The county argued the size of the proposed bond could endanger its share of tax revenue.

But other projects are already on the table for next year, including a new $1.75 million bus hub slated for the triangle of land bordered by Dels Lane, Golden State Boulevard and Hawkeye Avenue. The project, funded entirely by federal stimulus funds and state transportation funds, is said to improve rider safety as transfers can occur off-street. Nearly 2,000 residents opposed the plan, though, preferring a downtown bus hub.

A 144-unit affordable housing development, named Avena Bella and funded by Turlock’s RDA Housing Set-Aside, grants, and tax credits, will be built at 500 W. Linwood Ave. in South Turlock this year as well. And further infrastructure improvements are planned for Turlock’s Westside Industrial Specific Plan Industrial Park.

“Grim” year for county

Not all local governments shared Turlock’s relatively rosy fate. In June, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors slashed $45 million from their 2010-2011 budget, eliminating 126 county employees, reducing office hours, and cutting 270 beds at the Honor Farm adult detention facility.

Even after those cuts, the Board of Supervisors still faced a $37.5 million structural deficit, leading to further cuts as the year went on. In November, the board took further steps to reduce that deficit, leading to 27 layoffs in the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.

The worst could be yet to come for the county. The Sheriff’s Department could shed as many as 50 employees before the budget is balanced, while every department could face similar, deep cuts.

“We’re making tough decisions today but I can tell you the toughest decisions are coming next year or the year after,” said District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa, whose district includes Turlock, when the county budget passed in June.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.