The Journal asked Turlock Mayor John Lazar to look back at 2010 and ahead for 2011. The following is his perspectives on the city’s past and future.
Q. What successes did the City of Turlock have last year?
A. In some ways, what did not happen to Turlock in this downturn in the economy has constituted some of our biggest successes as a community. Specifically, Turlock has not seen the double digit foreclosure rates as the other communities in Stanislaus County who were ranked among the highest in the nation. While unemployment is in the 18 percent range for the Central Valley, Turlock’s unemployment is significantly lower at approximately 10 percent. Turlock’s ability to weather the economic storm that we have seen is a huge success and makes our recovery period shorter.
The City has seen successes in garnering federal stimulus funds to construct such public works projects such as re-paving Canal Drive, providing business assistance in Turlock’s unique Entrepreneur Center as well as assisting new large employers such as Peninsula Plastics to provide training for their new employees.
From a fiscal perspective, Turlock has already seen stabilization and a slight increase in our sales tax revenue as well as a stabilization in property values which helps us to continue to pay for vital public services such as police and fire. The City’s employees have come together and made further concessions to insure that there were no further layoffs and cuts to community services.
Q. If you could change one thing from 2010, what would it be?
A. The City Council has experienced a difficult year. The conflicts within the Council made dealing with the tough budget decisions even more difficult. I am a consensus builder and I wish that consensus had won over conflict. Despite the challenges, the Council was still able to adopt a budget that lowers the revenue/expense imbalance and properly uses our healthy budget reserve.
Q. What major projects await the City of Turlock next year?
A. Despite 2010 being a wearisome year, both the community as well as City staff have been working diligently on projects to benefit Turlock for the years to come. Specifically, some of those new projects include the construction of the Carnegie Arts facility that is under construction, the approval of the Avena Bella affordable housing project as well as further infrastructure improvements in the Westside Industrial area that continue to attract potential users to our community. Lastly, the City anticipates being in construction on the new downtown Public Safety Facility later this year. All of these projects will provide construction jobs while the projects are being built as well as their long term benefits to the community.
Q. If you could accomplish one realistic objective in 2011, what would it be?
A. The new City Council has been sworn in and seated and we have already begun work on a two year strategic plan to lead our community. This plan will be vital in positioning Turlock for further economic recovery and development. In this regard, I am both hopeful and optimistic. While it is my job to lead the Council, our objectives for 2011 will be a team effort.
Q. What significant hurdles do you see the City of Turlock facing in 2011?
A. We are living in a period of time when the people have lost their trust in their government. Whether it is the State Legislature or the scandal in the City of Bell, we are tasked with proving that the City of Turlock is transparent in its policy making, is responsible with the taxpayers’ dollars and is putting the best interest of the community first in our decision making.
Looking ahead, the Council will be busy dealing with some rather large and complex issues that include the adoption of a new General Plan, the designation of a zoning district to accommodate homeless shelters by right, the 2011-2012 budgets, and financing the new public safety facility. I believe this Council is up for the challenge as we work through these important issues for our community.
Q. Do you anticipate further cuts to balance the budget? If so, what cuts?
A. The primary components to the City’s General fund budget are sales tax, property tax and a few other smaller revenue generating sources. All of these funding sources are considered volatile and easily affected by swings in the economy. The City of Turlock, as some of those swings that increased revenue was prudent to put those funds away as reserve. Our current General Fund reserve at the close of the 2009-2010 fiscal year sits at about $18 million dollars. It is my hope that with a healthy reserve, as well as the early indicators we have seen for modest increases in sales tax, that we can continue budget reductions with planned retirements and normal employment exits. We will continue to seek more efficient service delivery models and resolve the imbalanced revenue and expenditures over time while using our reserve wisely.
The City Council is scheduled to receive a briefing on the current 2010-2011 budget in January and we will be able to benchmark where we are in the current year budget and ascertain adjustments that need to be made in the current fiscal year. I am hopefully optimistic that that our current year budget and revenue projections will hold true.
Q. How do you foresee the new council working together?
A. First, I would like to thank the Turlock community for their support in my re-election. I recognize the hard work of the Council for the past four years. As I start my second term as Turlock’s Mayor, I have already begun our planning as a new council in preparation for the hefty workload that faces us. I am confident that we are up to the challenges ahead and are all committed to doing what’s in the best interest of our community.
Lastly, over the years I have talked about Turlock being the jewel of the Central Valley and I still believe that to be true. I see this City Council committed to the ideals that have made Turlock a unique and wonderful place to live over this next four years.