A grim picture of staff reductions and cuts to City services started to take shape on Tuesday, when the Turlock City Council took a more detailed look at the FY2019-2020 proposed budget that aims to balance out a projected $4.4 million deficit.
In May, City Manager Bob Lawton presented to the City Council an overview of his proposed FY2019-20 budget totaling $45,144,657, an increase of over $2.1 million from FY2018-19. Revenues are expected to total $40,746,734, leaving a deficit of $4,397,833. The City Manager’s Recommended Budget proposes substantial reductions to correct the deficit.
“We don’t have reserves sufficient to pay even half of that amount,” said Lawton, regarding the $4.4 million deficit, “even if we wanted to incur it.
“…Our ability to raise revenue is restrained very strictly here in California. We’re limited essentially to actual growth that takes place. And that growth in revenues will consistently lag the necessary growth in the cost of doing business, whether it’s the cost of health insurance, whether it’s the cost of retirement, whether it’s the cost of gas, oil and repairs. Eighty percent of our General Fund budget is in people. And 80 percent of our General Fund budget is in public safety. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver…Every department took reductions from their budget request, in public safety and all the general government items.”
On Tuesday, the City Council heard presentations from the Administration, Development Services, Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities and Municipal Services departments. The Police and Fire department budgets will be presented to the Council at their June 11 meeting.
Proposed cuts to the Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Department could potentially be the most visible around town, as fewer workers will be available to maintain city parks.
The proposed budget calls for the elimination of a Maintenance Worker I and a Maintenance Worker II position from Parks. Those workers would be transferred to Streets and be funded under SB1 instead of General Fund dollars. The elimination of the two Parks maintenance positions will leave 10 full-time workers to maintain 187 acres of park space.
“I don’t want to underestimate the impact this is going to have on your parks system. There will be real impacts to the level of service that we’ll be able to provide the community,” said Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder.
Graffiti that’s not gang-related may not be removed for a while, there will be reduced trash removal frequency and irrigation repairs could be delayed resulting in brown spots in grass areas.
“Our most obvious impact is going to be our mowing schedule.”
Parks will be mowed either every two or three weeks. Van Guilder expects the City to receive calls about the lack of mowing.
City employees — including Public Safety Facility staff — will also be asked to start emptying their own office trash cans and vacuuming their own spaces, as reductions in four part-time facilities maintenance workers is also proposed.
One of the positives, according to Van Guilder, is the two positions cut from Parks maintenance will be moved to Streets, under SB1 funding.
“We’re actually going to bolster our streets maintenance efforts…What it means for our Streets team is — the way that we intend to utilize those individuals — we’re essentially going to be able to tackle almost double the number of pot holes in the community,” said Van Guilder. “I know it’s not what everybody wants in terms of redoing streets, but as you guys know, we are the Band-Aid people. We don’t have the ability to do the whole overlay. But I think that we’ll be able to make a difference in neighborhoods where now we’re primarily focused on our major thoroughfares.”
Van Guilder is also requesting $183,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax revenue (hotel taxes) to support operations and maintenance at Pedretti Park and the Turlock Regional Sports Complex.
“We estimate that 40 percent of the activity at Pedretti contributes to TOT, the Sports Complex is about 10 percent,” she said.
This would be the first time TOT funds would be used to offset costs of Pedretti and Sports Complex.
She also recommended increasing rental fees at the two City-owned sports venues and raising fees for the City’s after-school programs held at various school sites.
The entire recommended Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Department General Fund proposed budget is a 12.25 percent reduction from last year.
The Development Services budget has been running on an approximate $500,000 deficit every year due for the past several years due to subsidies, other tasks that the traffic division performs that aren’t billable to anything other than the General Fund and planning activities as part of economic development. That deficit is now $2.5 million in liability towards the General Fund, said Lawton.
“The Planning Division is almost leading charge on any economic development. They’re the ones that are out there investing a lot of time and energy and efforts into maybe some business proposals that won’t come through. But we’re out there giving businesses the most appropriate information so that they can make a determination if they want to move forward with the City of Turlock,” said Development Services Director Nathan Bray.
To cut that ongoing deficit, Planning and Engineering would both be eliminating part-time staff.
“It’s not ideal by any means, but in order to meet the proposed and Council-directed budget of closing the gap, this is one of the strategies that we’ve recommended,” said Bray.
Bray, however, has identified another potential revenue source for Planning activities through Senate Bill 2 (Building Homes and Jobs Act).
The complete list of proposed budget items is available online at www.cityofturlock.org.
This first round of in-depth budget talks prompted Council members to start talking about how they think the City should move forward financially.
“The recommend cuts that we’re talking about, especially today, are living within our means as a city. And living within our means as a city shouldn’t mean that we’re cutting services, positions and programs because I don’t think those cuts are excess, I don’t think they’re extra. They’re literally the standard of living in our city. It means…with the cuts, we’re lowing the standard of living in our city as a whole. This budget should be the catalyst that strongly encourages us to seriously consider revenue increases,” said Council member Nicole Larson.
Larson went on to request another revenue presentation from City staff, which would be followed by actionable items on an agenda. In April, the Council was presented revenue options that included putting a new tax on the 2020 ballot or increasing the Business License Tax or the Transient Occupancy Tax rate.
Mayor Amy Bublak requested $100,000 be allocated from the TOT funds to go specifically towards economic development efforts led by her.
“I assure you that within a year or two I can increase our revenue substantially without taxes,” said Bublak.