The City of Turlock’s current fiscal crisis should not be a surprise to City staff, elected officials or the residents. In 2005, I had the privilege of chairing a Community Advisory Committee appointed by the City Council to assess the fiscal condition of the City and to provide recommendations regarding the City’s declining financial condition. The first line in the Committee’s report to Mayor Andre 15 years ago was “The City of Turlock faces a fiscal crisis in which budget expenditures substantially exceed budget revenues. Sound familiar?
The 2005 report went on to say “The City is facing a ‘benefit crisis’ driven by spiraling costs of public safety pensions, health care, and workers compensation. In its current state, the budget is structurally unsound because, without structural adjustments in benefit expenses and enhancements in revenue sources, expenditures will always exceed revenues. The current City of Turlock pension and benefits program is unsustainable.”
Unfortunately, these observations made 15 years ago have manifested into reality. Rather than to address the root causes, the City leadership has used the General Fund Reserves to balance the budget to the point that the City has gone from a 6-month cash reserve to approximately 35 days. At the current spending rate, there will be no reserves to start the next fiscal year.
Over the past 15 years Turlock’s population has grown approximately 16.2 percent while total General Fund spending per person has increased 55.5 percent led by increases in police (68.6 percent) and fire (77.1 percent). Since General Fund spending is approximately 85 percent salaries/benefits, cost containment and expenditure reductions will most likely have to come in the form of reduced staffing which will result in potential adverse impacts to service levels. The challenge to City leadership and City staff is to find more cost effective and efficient methods to deliver these services that are essential to a quality of life that we deem important to make Turlock the place we want to live and work.
The City Council faces a number of very difficult decisions in the effort to balance the quality of life with fiscal prudence. The time to act was 15 years ago and prior inaction has now led the City to the brink of fiscal insolvency. The Council and City leadership must clearly define to the residents of Turlock the steps to be taken to correct the past fiscal missteps and move quickly with resolve and determination to return Turlock to a solid fiscal status.
The fiscal crisis facing Turlock is real and not just a short-term “blip” in the road of fiscal responsibility. Long term, sustainable solutions must be developed with all aspects of City functions and services being scrutinized and the status quo challenged at all levels. Revenue enhancement, a fancy phrase for “more taxes,” is not the answer. The time for action is now.
— Jim L. Theis