Economic crisis is now a reality for the City of Turlock and as City Council members look for a way out, a citizen advisory committee is offering a roadmap of possibilities that could lead to not only financial solvency, but a brighter future for the City as well.
In January, the Turlock Community Priorities Advisory Committee was created to look at policy-level changes and priorities over the next one to five years that could stabilize the General Fund, identify priorities for services and service standards to guide the City Council in making near-term reductions or deferrals of City services and provide guidance on potential new revenue sources.
The group was led by Legacy Health Foundation CEO Jeffrey Lewis and made up of a group of business owners and leaders, financial experts, representatives from the Turlock Unified School District and Stanislaus State and at-large community members with at least one from each Council district chosen by former Interim City Manager Michael Cooke.
Although the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown was an unexpected blow to both the committee’s meetings and its ability to predict future revenue sources, the members continued to meet via teleconference and come up with a list of recommendations for the City Council to consider.
“Over the years, Turlock has demonstrated the ability as a community to come together and focus on our future. The pandemic has made this challenge more difficult, but not impossible. There will be citizens calling for the recall of one or more members of the Turlock City Council because of actions they have or have not taken. It is part of the democratic process. Something that each of us may be called upon to evaluate and vote on,” wrote Lewis in a summary of the report’s findings.
“As you review this report, the road ahead will still have many tough choices. It will require collaboration, not name-calling; we will need honest discussions not rants on social media, and it will necessitate the willingness and determination of all elected officials to come together as a team. The challenge is great, and the time for action is now,” he continued.
The report calls for Turlock’s elected officials to agree on a sound economic strategy going forward including restructuring of public safety departments and putting forth a sales tax as a new revenue source.
Highlights of the report include:
— The recommendation of an immediate local sales tax. “Some of us believe we need to be bold and propose an increase of the sales tax by either two cents; or three cents in year one, reducing it two cents in year two and then maintaining the increase at one cent after that. This approach may generate about $45 million and would give the City of Turlock the ability to respond to the public safety challenges we face, and then some,” states the report.
— Restructuring of the City employee healthcare and benefit plans. “It is long past time to review the benefits provided to City of Turlock employees. While this is being undertaken, it is equally important to have a competitive salary review to understand in what areas city employees are underpaid and where they are overpaid. In the interim, some steps should be taken to help ensure the long-term solvency of the City of Turlock's employee benefits plan through aggressive collective bargaining negotiation,” states the report.
— Implementing a plan to staff the Turlock Police Department at recommended levels for a city the size of Turlock. “Today, the Turlock Police Department falls about 18 officers short of operating at a staffing level recommended by the Chief of Police for a city the size of Turlock. In addition, it currently has five officers out injured and five more going to the Police Academy. The challenges continue to mount,” states the report.
“If anyone gets sick, from the dispatchers to the officers, the alternatives are limited and will result in the complete reduction of any proactive units such as those identified below. If the losses continue, Chief Amirfar would seek the assistance of the County Sheriff's office to help patrol the City of Turlock.”
— Reorganizing the Turlock Fire Department. The report talks about the redundancy of Turlock Firefighters responding to medical calls alongside the contracted ambulance service, the high-cost of firefighter benefits and the exploration of creating a regional fire department.
Lewis made clear in the report that the 20-person advisory committee did not achieve unanimous agreement on the recommendations.
This report is expected to be presented to the City Council at its June 9 meeting and will be included in the Council’s agenda packet before the meeting, available at https://www.cityofturlock.org/government/turlockcitycouncil/councilmeetings.asp