Turlock council boosts public safety spending

mrowland@modbee.comJune 11, 2013 

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    alternate textMarijke Rowland
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— The City Council on Tuesday passed an amended budget that saves police and fire overtime and adds $400,000 in deficit spending.

City Manager Roy Wasden had recommended an austere budget that cut three firefighters and four police officers by not filling vacant positions. No layoffs were needed, but the Business Partnership Incentives Program that encouraged startups also was threatened with elimination.

The proposed budget still would have required a $1 million infusion from the general reserve fund.

But council members balked at the idea of slashing public-safety services and the new-business program. Instead, they unanimously passed an amended budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year that added $400,000 for police and fire overtime and restoring the incentive program, bringing deficit spending to $1.4 million.

More than a dozen Turlock firefighters were on hand for the council meeting. Two representatives from the department spoke against the cuts, particularly the short staffing it would cause at Station 3 in the northeast part of town along Monte Vista Avenue. The recommended budget would have cut staffing there from three to two.

Councilwoman Amy Bublak, a Modesto police officer, spoke out against the public safety cuts. She said even though she had asked Wasden to present them with a trimmed budget that reflected the economic realities of the region, the recommended budget cut too deeply into needed services.

"I would say to you as Thomas Jefferson did, the purpose of government is to do for the people what they can't do for themselves," she said. "They can't fight fires, they can't take people to jail."

Council members discussed the options for restoring some fire and police staffing. Wasden recommended that the council add one-time funding to the budget to pay for overtime, as opposed to hiring full-time staff that would require additional benefits and other compensation.

"I trust our fire and police chief to figure out the best way to use overtime dollars to maximize staffing," Wasden said. "But I don't see how we'll balance the budget with cost increases and revenue reductions if we commit to hiring now."

Councilman Forrest White put forth a successful motion to add $400,000 to the budget for public safety overtime and the incentive program, to be reviewed in six months. Council members did not specify how the additional funding would be split, leaving it to Wasden and the police and fire chiefs to divide the money.

Staffing one additional firefighter with overtime would cost about $230,000 for a year. Staffing four additional police officers through overtime for the same period would cost $340,000 to $350,000.

After the approved 2013-14 budget, the city will have about $11.6 million left in reserve.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.

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