Today our country faces an election aftermath that has not yet resulted in national unity. Locally, we are also struggling with the ever present COVID-19 economic and educational disruptions. Stanislaus County has just been placed again in the bottom tier of counties in response to the epidemic. City, county, state and federal finances are strained as seldom before. Even the passage of Measure A in Turlock will do little to assuage the perilous fiscal crises facing our city.
Never before has it been more necessary for local communities to work tougher to secure the best possible outcome from state and federal efforts to address the impacts of the epidemic.
To do so effectively requires all of us to rededicate ourselves to supporting public policies that actually address problems and not rhetorical sound bites that accomplish little.
We have a good opportunity to do this. Turlock and many other cities have elected new council representatives. Stanislaus County will have three new supervisors in January. Turlock, two new City Council members. It’s time to forget the feuds of the past and present a united front to secure the best for our area.
Communities like Turlock have been devastated by the impact of COVID-19. What began as a healthcare crisis has quickly morphed into unprecedented health, social and economic challenges. We have seen middle-class families now living on the edge of poverty. Homelessness has not been abated. Our children's mental health is being challenged daily, and the strength of families is being frayed.
While prayer continues to be something many of us lean on, I am asking that we take an extraordinary step forward and meet as a community to talk honestly and openly about Turlock's challenges and opportunities.
There is no silver bullet available to bail us out. Not new sales tax revenue, not cannabis proceeds, not even overdue and necessary state and federal assistance.
In Turlock we cannot count on others to address our financial shortfalls. All levels of government face the same financial demands.
Let me remind everyone of our fiscal reality:
First, our police department needs at least eight to ten more officers. We do not have the funds sufficient to hire all needed officers, nor is there enough revenue to increase salaries for existing officers to help retain the force we have.
Second, as everyone recently read, our fire department has been devastated by the pandemic. While other localities will help, it does raise the question of whether we should begin exploring a fire regionalization strategy. The cities of Patterson and Oakdale already have taken that step. Both cities have preserved their local identity while benefitting from the economies of scale. We need to discuss this option in Turlock.
Third, we are long overdue to review City departments and personnel and ask whether we can consolidate departments to save dollars and act more efficiently.
Fourth, our business permitting process is an embarrassment. We need to simplify our entire permitting process to make it business-friendly that does not require multiple visits or multiple forms.
Fifth, with the cold weather upon us, we can expect our homeless population to become sicker. While we do not have the financial resources to solve homelessness, we do have a responsibility to ensure that homeless families have access to needed services and food. To many organizations are trying to accomplish the same goal of helping the homeless without working together.
We need to start with a collaborative effort among all programs serving the homeless to come together with a single plan built on caring for children first, families second, and then everyone else. We also need to work closely with the county, which is charged with much of the responsibility, and the funding, of the homeless problem.
Sixth, we need a real road repair plan for the City. Every neighborhood should know when their roads are going to be repaired.
Finally, we need greater transparency in city government. We are long overdue for an independent forensic audit to explicitly outline the short and long-term financing challenges we face. Let’s explain to voters how much of every tax dollar goes into each and every obligation of the city.
It is time for the Turlock City Council to direct its executives to follow a roadmap to fiscal and quality of life improvements. As a council, it is our responsibility to give them that roadmap.
I will soon ask our council to schedule a series of meetings to discuss the best way to proceed in developing the roadmap. We need to move forward.