Various City departments presented to the Turlock City Council on Tuesday during a special budget workshop, pleading for the use of increased funding to staff previously-frozen positions and provide adequate services to residents.
Included in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 budgets were a total of 35 frozen positions which were unstaffed at the time. Thanks to an unexpected increase in sales tax revenue and the passage of Measure A, the 2021-2022 budget which was approved by the Council in June will now feature a General Fund bolstered by a $5.3 million surplus.
Sales tax revenue exceeded budget projections by $2.5 million (up 17%) and Measure A tax revenue exceeded the budget by $524,606 (up 19%). General Fund expenses came in $3.1 million under budget, due largely to personnel vacancies totaling $2.175 million. Of that, Public Safety vacancies accounted for $1.5 million.
While the previous staffing freezes have since resulted in reduced service levels in everything from public safety to parks maintenance, the unexpected revenue allowed City departments on Tuesday to make their requests for staffing augmentations which could potentially be included as amendments to the budget.
On the City Administration end, staff is proposing to reinstate the Mayor and City Council’s conference and travel budget while also increasing the City Manager’s budget for the same activities. Additionally, a training budget for the new City Clerk is being proposed along with an increase in part time help budgeting for both the City Clerk and City Attorney.
In the Finance Department, City staff is requesting allocation for another accountant, who will help keep up with work after a recent audit found the department was struggling to keep up with work, as well as funding to create a new workspace for finance employees currently utilizing a loaned office space.
Human Resources Analyst Jessie Dhami said the City’s HR Department is critically understaffed, with part-time staff working at the level a full-time, benefitted employee would be working and full-time staff putting in 12- to 14-hour work days. Under her request, an augmentation would provide for two full-time positions in the HR division at a total cost of $201,881.
With 32 job positions set to open for the City by June of next year, HR will need all the help they can get, Dhami said.
Police and fire are both looking to receive more funding in the near future, with Interim Police Chief Gary Hampton requesting the City unfreeze one record technician position and two emergency services dispatcher positions. At a future meeting, Hampton said, the police department will ask Council to explore unfreezing two community service officer positions, adding officers to the neighborhood resource program and augmenting the vehicle and equipment budget.
Interim Fire Chief Michael Botto told the Council that more overtime and personnel will be needed to staff all four fire stations throughout the year. The current appropriation of overtime will expire mid-October, and an allocation of $252,392 is being requested to maintain normal staffing levels through the end of the calendar year.
Botto added that Turlock’s fire division is currently staffed with 34 firefighters of 36 available positions, and three more are in the hiring process. Until then, vacant positions need to be filled with overtime in order to keep the City’s four station response system whole.
“All the items we have just identified have been brought forward before by the fire team. These were all planned need items, but we have deferred and delayed to where these items are now an immediate need,” Botto said. “Some of these items are initial attack where we need to act now...We can spend time pointing fingers or placing blame, or we can focus all of our collective energy on solving the problems and moving forward. I’m taking the moving forward approach.”
Another City department struggling due to low staffing is Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities, as explained by its Director Allison Van Guilder on Tuesday. She requested that the budget include $164,872 to fund two more parks maintenance employees, another $164,872 to hire two facilities maintenance workers and $22,000 to provide double the tree trimming services citizens currently receive across public locations.
With just four parks employees allocated in the current budget, the Parks department is having a hard time keeping up with maintenance at the City’s 25 parks. From landscaping and trash clean up to graffiti and other vandalism, the reduction in service is affecting the Parks department’s ability to generate revenue through facilities rentals, Van Guilder said, with many who do rent spaces complaining about the state of the parks.
“We’ve been behind the eight ball for a long time, so the fact that here we are in the current time and are below what we had 10 years ago, it’s obviously a challenge,” Van Guilder said of staffing levels.
Also included during Tuesday’s presentation was the Planning Department, which is requesting the unfreezing of one planner position, and the Engineering division, which is requesting the unfreezing of six positions and reclassification of several others.