As Turlock’s new mayor, I’m honored to provide an update on both positive developments as well as challenges our city faces.
Among positive milestones, a highlight was Blue Diamond’s recent groundbreaking of an expansion of its Turlock plant to meet growing demand for almond milk. The 52,000 square foot addition brings new jobs to our community. With such private sector investment in Turlock, we truly are becoming an even stronger focus of food production.
Another positive change involves your City Council quickly implementing reforms in city government. First, we returned key responsibilities to the City Manager such as signing city contracts.
Second, the Council has made it clear to our department heads and employees that neither the Mayor nor Council members would intervene in day-to-day city operations. That’s not our job. We set policy and the City Manager implements it.
Third, we will not tolerate employees being subjected to a hostile work environment at the hands of elected officials or anyone else.
The recent election created a vacancy in my former City Council District 4. Although I would have preferred a special election so voters could fill the position, the $70,000 cost of this election was too much given our budget situation. Therefore, consistent with state law and past practice, the Council implemented a transparent selection process open to all District 4 voters.
Eight applicants were interviewed in public by the Council. After a thorough process, Becky Arellano was selected to fill the District 4 vacancy and she is already contributing.
We have challenges in addition to successes. The biggest challenge facing Turlock today is our budget shortfall. We cannot continue to use $3.8 million in reserve funds to meet operating expenses. The City Council will take the necessary actions to meet this challenge.
For example, over the past several months legal fees exceeded $60,000 a month. Since this cost is unsustainable, we are completing a competitive request for proposals which will get the City’s legal expenses under control.
To develop a new City budget, we have directed the City Manager to consult with our department heads, labor unions and City employees to determine how we can best deliver City services to residents in the most cost-effective way. Upon completion of this review process, the Council will hold public budget workshops designed to secure resident and taxpayer input on how a new spending plan for Turlock can meet our citizens’ needs without breaking the bank.
Cutting costs is not the only way to balance our budget. While some people may suggest raising taxes to close our budget deficit, I will not support new taxes before we try other approaches. For example, I am committed to economic development that creates new revenue for our city needs. Soon we will present new economic development strategies to assist our local economy.
Another critical challenge is managing the out-of-control costs of the new surface water project. While this began as a regional effort, today only ratepayers in Turlock and Ceres are slated to foot the bill. While we need to address our future water needs, I will not support a water plan that increases your water rates over $125 a month.
I hope to cooperate with others to get costs of the project under control and seek funding sources other than ratepayers in Turlock and Ceres. For example, I have met with new Congress member Josh Harder to seek his help in securing federal funding for this project.
The terrible condition of our local roads is a constant challenge. Taxpayers passing Measure L helps enormously. But we will pursue other strategies like requiring utility companies to fully repair any road they damage as part of ongoing utility maintenance. No longer will utility companies be allowed to break into our roads and then simply patch the damage in a way that leads to pot holes.
Finally, to address our challenge with homelessness we are moving forward to address the issue in a humane way but in a manner that also respects our homeowners and business owners. We have returned our local parks to the community and are laying the groundwork for a thoughtful consensus strategy to address homelessness. Thanks to the leadership of Turlock residents like Liz Padilla and Jason Freitas, the lines of communication between the homeless and our community are improving on a daily basis.
Turlock faces many challenges. However, I believe by working together in an open, transparent manner, together we can meet the challenges facing Turlock making our City an even better place to live.
Should you wish to share your views on any City issue please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 209-668-5540.