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Inaugural workshop offers overview of Citys concerns
city council
The Turlock City Council held its first Saturday workshop in an effort to review in depth the city's strategic plan. - photo by Journal file photo

Unlike most weekends, City Hall was an active site on Saturday with the inaugural Turlock City Council workshop taking place where the new mayor and council set out to discuss their strategic plan for the city.

Mayor Gary Soiseth established what some council members have referred to as an “aggressive” workshop schedule in an effort to create a forum for the staff, the public, and the policy makers to address issues pertaining to infrastructure, budget, and quality of life, amongst other city needs. Saturday’s workshop focused on the council’s two-year strategic plan which allows the City of Turlock to be proactive instead of reactive as far as determining its path for the future and how it will finance it.

Soiseth noted that there were some similarities amongst the two prior strategic plans, something that could be indicative of either goals not being met or simple inattention.

“This isn’t a poke in the eye. This is a ‘let’s be specific,’” said Soiseth, advocating for adding timelines to new goals in the strategic plan because “To be honest, if it’s on here in 2013 and it was on the 2011 one that means we didn’t achieve that and that’s the frankness I want to talk about.”

City Manager Roy Wasden noted that repetition in the plans may be indicative of the fact that steps were still being taken to achieve the goals, especially during the difficult fiscal times that ensued after the recession. Council Member Steven Nascimento also said that the city’s inability to meet the goals is not a reflection of the City of Turlock staff.

“Whether or not we achieve this goal is completely dependent upon whether or not council decides to achieve that goal and depending upon what services we are willing to part with in order to get there and get balanced,” said Nascimento.

While the first workshop meeting served as more of a cursory overview of the city, the challenge of how to balance quality services while maintaining healthy reserves predominantly governed the conversation on Saturday. Council Member Bill DeHart advocated for a “healthy tension” between the two and said the City needs to continue to protect itself and its assets.

Nascimento mentioned that a multiyear budget may be helpful, something with which Soiseth and Wasden concurred. Wasden said that a multiyear budget would sync up well with elections for new council members and in turn allows their priorities to be reflected.

Presently, the Turlock City Council has around $12 million in reserves, roughly twice what past council’s have wanted at the bare minimum. The past council projected needing to deficit spend, but through adjustments and increased revenues, Wasden anticipated the City will end up with a balanced budget.

“Until we go through the budget process I can’t tell you for certain you will be balanced, but I believe in the next budget process, we can bring a balanced budget,” said Wasden.

Staff also canvassed their departments on Saturday to give the council an overall view of their duties as well as the current state of affairs for their respective areas.

Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman said in 2011 and 2012 the department was in a ‘budget cutting mode,” but things have since stabilized which affords the departments more freedom for partnerships like that with California State University, Stanislaus. An attempt to create a program with the university was made in previous years for the Fire Department to understand its perception by the public and ways they can improve their service, however, Lohman said “We didn’t really get back some of the info we needed from that group so at that point in time we just decided to hold off on that and wait.”

Lohman is hopeful that it will collaborate with CSUS again and Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke has plans to work with the university on Geographic Information System updates.

Cooke’s department has been in the spotlight as of late due to the ongoing drought and an interest on behalf of the Turlock Irrigation District and the Del Puerto Water District in gaining access to City of Turlock water. While Cooke said the outlook is not bright as the state enters into its fourth year of a drought, he stressed the importance of collaboration amongst agencies and cities in order for the region to optimally fare the drought.

“I don’t think we can solve our problems by Turlock taking care of Turlock,” said Cooke.

While ground water continues to diminish, Cooke also highlighted there is not so much a fear that wells will go dry, but rather that agencies will be forced to pump water from such depths that contaminants like arsenic compromise the water.

As far as daily water use by citizens of Turlock, Council Member Matthew Jacob recommended the City develop a way to inform customers on a day by day basis of their water usage which the City tracks.

“That sounds like an opportunity for conservation,” said Jacob, who suggested the development of a smart phone application.

Cooke agreed with Jacob and said, “It’s not that hard to do, it just takes time and money,” noting that the City would need to contract with a company to make this a reality.

While keeping the public informed, and not just regarding their water usage, is a priority for all city staff and officials, Turlock Police Chief Robert Jackson did note that there is often a disconnect between the public’s perception and the reality of the Turlock Police Department, something most department heads echoed.

“There are some weird expectations from the public. They expect us to be able to put together a homicide investigation in 30 minutes… but it doesn’t work that way,” said Jackson in reference to popular criminal shows that distort individual’s perceptions of investigations.

With an increase in crime in 2014, Jackson said he is looking into ways to mitigate the impact crime is having on the community, such as investigating mental health resources, especially with the public’s passage of Proposition 47. Proposition 47 reduced several felonies to misdemeanors causing the Stanislaus County to release 218 inmates in December. Jackson also partially attributes the increase in crime rates to the complex methamphetamine addiction plaguing the Central Valley on which he will elaborate more at the March 3 workshop.

The next workshop will take place at 6 p.m. oFeb. 3 and will focus on The Future of Turlock’s Groundwater, Tertiary, and Surface Water Resources.

The following workshops are as follows:

Feb 17:  A Look at Turlock's Local Roads, Interchanges, and Corridors

March 3: The Future of Turlock's Police and Fire Forces

March 17:  The Building on Turlock's Parks, Arts, and Recreation Programs

March 31:  Turlock's Building Department: An Analysis of Current Procedures

April 7:  Strengthening the Relationship Between the City of Turlock and CSU Stanislaus

April 21:  Finalizing Turlock's Strategic Plan and Budget Priorities