On May 24, we started the discussion with Turlock stakeholders, including our residents and taxpayers, on the need to balance our budget, do business differently and put Turlock back on sound fiscal ground.
Our immediate job was to stop deficit spending. City Manager Lawton and his staff launched an open budget discussion process on how best to deliver essential City services in the most economical manner.
Initial requests from City Department heads would have required $4.1 million in deficit spending. To most people, spending more money than they have is a foreign concept. In our City, deficit spending unfortunately has been common practice in recent years. No more.
Developing the balanced budget was not easy. For example, 19 vacant City employee positions were not filled. Some positions in City government were eliminated.
Other budget cuts included:
1. Eliminating travel budgets for the Mayor and City Council;
2. Canceling membership in the California League of Cities organization; and
3. Delaying vehicle purchases for a year.
As a result of these cuts, the Turlock City Council unanimously adopted a balanced budget at the June 11 City Council meeting.
Despite progress in eliminating this year’s deficit spending, we have more work to do. Turlock’s Municipal Code requires maintaining annual budget reserves of $6.5 million. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) suggests cities the size of Turlock maintain a $7.1 million reserve fund.
Because of dangerous deficit spending before, our reserves dwindled to critically low levels. We were able to rebound a bit this year, but our current budget reserves still only stands at $2.4 million.
Throughout the budget process my City Council colleagues stated their desire to raise taxes. Although I oppose new taxes, out of respect for my fellow Council members, I asked our City Manager to present all options to raise revenue through increased taxes.
During the presentation, our City Manager reminded us that:
1. Turlock tax increases must be approved by voters; and
2. An election for tax increases could not occur prior to the 2020 election without spending $270,000 on a Special Election.
No doubt this talk of tax increases will continue, but without my support. For the last decade I have never voted for a tax increase and do not now support raising taxes in Turlock. Before considering any tax increases, we must regain the trust of our residents by operating within a balanced budget and proving that we can spend taxpayer money wisely.
In addition to spending wisely, we need to prove that when we receive new revenues we can be disciplined with them. For example, although I opposed opening cannabis business in Turlock, we absolutely should not commit cannabis revenues to any new programs or restoring budget cuts until we have a firm grasp on the cannabis revenue stream. Therefore, initial cannabis revenues should be used to grow our budget reserves and reduce City debt.
I hope we have taken the first steps to earn your trust by adopting a balanced budget for 2019-20 in which we eliminated deficit spending.
I will fight for future balanced budgets. We shouldn’t spend what we don’t have. We will restore our reserve funds to the mandated $6.5 million dollars and strive to reach the $7.1 million in reserves recommended by the ICMA.
Finally, our City Manager will appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee of business and financial professionals to help develop a debt reduction strategy.
As always, I look forward to your input on how we can best deliver essential City services in the most economical manner.