Desert Storm commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf had this to say about planning:
“If you have to plan, plan on the worst case. If you plan on the worst case, then you’re always going to be ready. If you do best-case planning, you’re going to be in trouble somewhere along the line.”
My friends, Turlock leaders have been doing best case planning for awhile now, and as the General noted, it’s not “if” but “when” serious trouble will engulf us all. The future lies in the numbers and while numbers aren’t “sexy,” we’d better all pay attention to them.
Let me illustrate based on figures that are part of our public record. If I have them, our elected leaders should as well.
As of the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, Turlock had an audited reserve fund of $11,081, 071. But in fiscal 2017-18 our city spent more than it took in and ran an estimated deficit of $1.3 million, a reduction in our rainy-day fund of more than 10 percent.
That means by the end of 2017-18 our estimated reserves fell to $9,781,071.
But wait, our leaders have already approved expense increased for fiscal 2018-19 of $3.5 million while projected revenues — money taken in by the city from sales tax, for example — are estimated to be down $500,000.
City officials estimate our reserves will be down to $5,781,071 by the end of fiscal 2018-19, just half of what it was just two years ago. How would you feel if your family’s life savings had been cut in half in two years? Increasingly less secure, I would imagine. But it gets so much worse.
Turlock also has a $2.5 million deficit in its Engineering and Development Fund, and that shortfall has to come from somewhere. That means the actual estimate for real reserves for 2018-19 is $3,281,071, less than a third of the reserves two years ago. And that $3.3 million reserve amounts to about two months of city operations.
But consider this: Without intervention, the trend won’t stop with 2018-19. Another year like this one bankrupts the city. And it’s all so precarious.
Just one or two hiccups — loss of sales tax revenue due to closure of a big store, a big unforeseen expense like a fire or even a weather event — could be catastrophic.
Without some hard choices and immediate action, Turlock could find itself in the same disastrous boat as bankrupt cities like Stockton and Atwater. So while this situation is ugly, being a bankrupt city is much worse.
It’s time to make hard choices and put Turlock’s fiscal house in order.
— Forrest White