Five of the six Turlock City Council candidates met early Wednesday morning at a forum sponsored by the Turlock Sunrise Rotary, where they faced pointed questions from Rotarians in search of specific answers about their plans for office.
Rather than simply asking what strategy candidates might take with Turlock’s budget, which could face deep cuts again next year should tax revenues not rebound, Rotarians looked for specific examples as to how a $2.7 million budget gap might be bridged.
Candidate Forrest White, a former Turlock Recreation manager and San Joaquin County Fair CEO, singled out the current retirement system as an area of focus. He advocated the establishment of a split retirement system, where new hires might receive fewer benefits.
“It’s not going to save you money today,” White said. “You’re still going to reach into your pocket to cover costs. But the reality is, you have to look at is this sustainable in five years or ten years?”
Candidate David “DJ” Fransen, who did not attend the two previous forums, agreed with White but suggested that something needs to be done for today as well. The owner of TurlockCityNews.com said that employees will have to contribute some kind of concessions to balance the budget.
“It’s an investment in their long-term benefits,” Fransen said.
Fransen, who previously worked for the City of Turlock, said many city jobs have been saved by past concessions. He said that employees are beginning to realize that cutting a handful of workers can jeopardize entire departments once there are more managers than laborers. Fransen said he would use his passion for Turlock and outreach expertise to ensure the necessary concessions were made.
Candidate Bill DeHart, director of marketing for Covenant Village, railed against a system which would cut equally across all departments, but did not offer specific examples as to what he might cut. DeHart said he would look for budgeted funds which were not achieving their intended purposes to reapportion, and that he would listen to citizens’ wants and needs in drafting a budget.
Candidate Timm LaVelle, who owns a bookkeeping business and previously served eight years as a Turlock Unified School District trustee, touted his past experience balancing the $180 million TUSD budget. He said he would employ a similar system to ensure the City of Turlock’s budget is balanced, opening up the budget process and bringing in city staff and members of the public to find areas where money should be spent and saved.
“It’s up to the community to decide what our priorities are,” LaVelle said. “It’s the council’s duty to make sure we are fiscally sound and there is something left for the next generation.”
Candidate Pat Noda, a businessman who has made improving the Turlock bus system and addressing homelessness his chief issues, saw potential cost savings in operating the bus system in house. Currently, the city contracts with a private company which earns a profit by operating the busses. Noda went on to suggest that investing in homeless prevention would cut down on Turlock’s public safety bill.
Rotarians also labored to nail down candidates’ positions on hiring outside consultants for the city and revisiting Turlock’s ordinance banning big box stores which combine large grocery stores with other retail shopping.
All candidates were in favor of hiring consultants, only when absolutely necessary, and placing a greater onus on city staff to make decisions.
The big box query received a wider range of responses.
Noda said he would be in favor of an open-door policy on large businesses coming in. DeHart sees big box stores as a regional shopping opportunity, and would consider opening the doors for such stores through a thorough reexamination of the big box policy.
Fransen agreed that there’s an opportunity for big box stores in regional commercial zones, which could be established through the ongoing General Plan Update. But Fransen said it’s important to draft a solution that will protect and help the stores here today.
LaVelle was opposed to revisiting the existing ordinance, as Turlock already has an abundance of grocery stores – more than the one store per 10,000 residents recommended by planners – and potentially faces expensive lawsuits if the ordinance is changed. He said that a regional commercial designation which allows big box stores would be the only alternative he could consider.
White said he would rely on public opinion, including that gathered at an upcoming 7 p.m. Nov. 21 Planning Commission public hearing on the big box ordinance, to help him make a decision on what is best for the community.
Candidate Jeremy Rocha, a recent California State University, Stanislaus graduate and agribusinessman, did not attend Wednesday’s forum.
One more public debate awaits the six council candidates. The Turlock Journal and California State University, Stanislaus will sponsor that debate, which will occur at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 18 at Snider Hall on the CSU Stanislaus campus.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.