TURLOCK — Although city finances could not yet be considered robust, they are on a course of "gentle, moderate improvement," City Manager Roy Wasden said.
Sales and property taxes at last are creeping up after years of decline. It's not enough to keep the city from having to make budget cuts, but officials are hoping to keep the effect on the general public to a minimum.
The proposed budget calls for eliminating seven positions in public safety: three firefighters and four police officers. The city wouldn't have to lay off anyone, but the jobs would not be filled. After- school care provided with a partnership with the Turlock Unified School District would cost $1 more a week, and the Business Incentive Program, which provides $1,000 to startups going into vacant sites, would be canceled.
Today, the City Council will take its second look at the 2013-14 budget, after getting a preliminary review of the general fund earlier this month. The council is scheduled to adopt the budget as a whole at the first or second meeting in June.
Staff presented four budgets, which ranged from spending no reserve money to keeping everything the way it is now and spending $3 million in reserve funds.
The recommended budget includes spending of roughly $1 million in general fund reserves, which would leave a total general fund reserve of $12 million, much of which is allocated for various expenses. The city still would have access to about $3 million if needed.
Other cuts include leaving various city positions vacant, eliminating travel expenses, and reducing technology service and equipment replacement funds.
Residents could see a lag in response times one fire station likely would be staffed by a two-person crew rather than three and in processing paperwork.
"There's still just as much to do, but we have fewer people doing it," Wasden said.
It's not ideal, he said, but it'll work.
"There's a lot of pressure," he said, pointing out that the city expects to see significant increases in the next few years in its pension, workers compensation and health care costs. "We have to get to the point where we have a balanced budget (without dipping into reserves)."
Still, officials are confident that the city is moving in the right direction.
"We have got a solid, growing economy," Wasden said. Tax income is rising 4 percent to 7 percent, with residential property taxes on the rise and commercial, hopefully, not too far behind.
The city has concession agreements with its union-represented employees that expire later this year, but they're negotiating to potentially extend them.
"I think everyone's come to the table," Mayor John Lazar said. "We more or less have cooperation of all the pieces to put a budget together."
Lazar said that looking ahead, he's optimistic.
"The Central Valley economy's a work in progress," he said. "Fortunately for us, everyone is understanding of that. Not only austere, but understanding of the fact we need to get through this."
Lazar predicts two to five more years before the economy can be considered stabilized. But in the meantime, he believes the worst is in the rearview mirror. "I'm very up on Turlock and the future."
The Turlock City Council meets at 7 p.m. today at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.
Budget documents are available on the city's website, www.ci.turlock.ca.us. Click on "Government," then "City Council Meetings."
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