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Final City budget workshop set for Tuesday
Mayor's priorities: Paying off debt, infrastructure
fire truck

The City of Turlock could achieve a balanced budget within one year, that is if the Turlock City Council adopts Mayor Gary Soiseth's initial recommendations.

Soiseth and Council member Steven Nascimento have served on a budget subcommittee to review the City of Turlock's budget "line by line" in preparation of the adoption process. The City must adopt the budget by June 9 and on Tuesday the council, City staff, and community members will convene for a workshop to discuss the numbers. In the meantime, Soiseth submitted his list of recommendations that prioritize spending and saving with the hopes of achieving a balanced budget in one year's time. 

"These recommendations reflect my commitment to delivering efficient services and spending our city’s tax dollars wisely," said Soiseth.

Paying off debt and investing in various departments of the City's services are the mayor's two overarching priorities. The City has an outstanding collective balance of nearly $5.5 million between the fire and police departments' Public Employees’ Retirement System. With an interest rate of 7.5 percent accruing, the mayor recommends paying off this debt upfront through various means such as using the proceeds from the expected sale of the old 900 N. Palm police station in addition to utilizing roughly $3 million from the General Fund Reserve.

"The City will annually save about $615,367 per year by paying off these two unfunded liabilities," states Soiseth in a release."While General Funds will be required to pay off this debt, the General Fund Reserve will continue to maintain a $6,500,000 'hard reserve' for emergencies and will have an additional General Fund reserve of approximately $1,300,000 for a total General Fund Reserve of approximately $7,800,000 as of July 1, 2015." 

The mayor also released a list of recommendations in regards to the status quo budget such as adding $50,000 to the City's pothole repair efforts for "crack seal" road improvements, creating a low-income tree maintenance program, utilizing just over $600,000 to make various sidewalks and ramps in Turlock compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards,  and investing in lighting infrastructure at Pedretti Park. Several of Soiseth's recommendations echoed what many City staff have suggested for their departments at council meetings.

The Turlock City Council received information on the  the General Fund, Municipal Services Department and Police Department numbers at their May 12 meeting. 

Police Chief Robert Jackson detailed his department's spending priorities, some of which includes bringing back the Street Crimes Unit, returning staffing levels to pre-recession years, hiring an animal services employee for licensing, as well as converting a rotational detective into a full-time detective to specifically meet the needs of cyber crimes. 

Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke also provided insight into his department. The main budget, Water Quality Control, has $19 million in revenue and projects $19.2 million in expenses. With $500,000 in reserves, Cooke said he projects underspending the budget this year.

"We've seen an increase in revenue due to industrial growth, so our industries are processing more goods and discharging more waste water,"  said Cooke.

However, more money could be expended in the next year or two based upon how the City proceeds in its pursuits of water resources. 

"Increased spending could occur in the future depending upon the City's level of participation in two large infrastructure projects: the regional surface water supply project through the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority where we would potentially get water from TID via the Tuolumne River and treat that to potable standards. The second project being the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, which is a proposed recycled pipeline out to the Delta Mendota Canal. Depending upon what happens with those projects these budgets will change," said Cooke on May 12.

On May 26 staff of the Fire, Development Services, Parks, and Housing departments followed suit, each detailing the status and expected needs of their departments. 

Fire Chief Tim Lohman said his department is proposing adding a neighborhood services part-time position to assist with code enforcement. This position would cost $14,000 and have no negative impact on the general fund as the elimination of a supervisor position provided savings in the budget. Due to "organizational fatigue" in the department ,which currently has set aside $210,000 for overtime which is regularly expended, Lohman proposed hiring three fire fighters. Lohman suggested using only  $105,000 while the department undergoes the hiring process over the next five to six months. The remaining $105,00 as well as an additional $80,000 would then be needed for the three firefighters salaries.

While the City of Turlock has been discussing the intricacies of each department's budgets for weeks, Tuesday's workshop will provide the council, City staff and community members a final opportunity to collectively review the recommendations from both staff and the budget subcommittee.

The City of Turlock budget workshop will take place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Turlock City Hall located at 156 S. Broadway.