TURLOCK -- Six new firefighter positions and the second year of a comprehensive policing plan must be funded next year, City Council decided Tuesday, but not without deepening the deficit beyond $1.5 million.
With expenditures outpacing revenues, city staff and the council have agreed to a deficit spending plan for the 2009 fiscal year, but questions about how much to go in the red and where to make cuts linger.
If officially passed in July, it will mark the second time in the city's history that a negative budget has been passed.
The city has $10.6 million in savings, plus an expected $4.6 million in reserve dollars rolling in soon -- drafted as a loan for the new police station -- to rely on.
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The City Council was presented with a host of budgets and alternatives, all of them involving some degree of loss.
The first budget, proposed by City Manager Tim Kerr, reflects a $392,000 deficit, down from $570,000 when the plan was first pitched last week. That's thanks to the discovery of almost $180,000 set aside for computers but not used. Kerr's spending plan maintains the current level of city service, he said, but doesn't fund planned Police and Fire Department expansions.
But those public safety expansions are a must, the council said Tuesday. Hiring six firefighters at a cost of $345,000 brings every station in the city up to three-man engine teams and reduces annual overtime expenses.
Year two of the Police Department's strategic plan, which aims to modernize and expand the city force, also is required, the council said. At a cost of more than $1 million, the second year of the plan creates a street crimes or gang unit, drug unit and crime prevention unit; all told, hiring and equipping 10 new officers.
"How are we going to pay for it?" asked Councilman Kurt Spycher. "Well, we're going to have to make cuts."
Spycher and Councilman Ted Howze suggested a series of cuts last week, including $20,000 in arts funding, $72,000 in the council's budget, freezing three positions and stalling the hire of a payroll clerk, among other things. Coupled with the full complement of new public safety positions, their plan adds up to a $1.6 million deficit.
"Government exists to do for the people what they can't do for themselves, and in this city that's public safety," Howze said.
Suggestion to cut journal subscriptions
Having gone through the budget line item by line item, Howze brought a spreadsheet of suggested cuts, including such things as cutting $6,000 in book and journal subscriptions for the city attorney's office.
"For us to go down into the line items is micromanaging," Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher said. "If we choose to cut, let's give the departments a percentage, otherwise we're micromanaging."
Howze and Hatcher sit on a special budget ad hoc committee, suggested by Howze last week, to review the Municipal Services Division, which includes parks, recreation, water and sewer departments, among others. Howze believes upward of $250,000 can be saved by realigning the department, which he said is management heavy.
By the end of the night, basic parameters were set, but no hard decisions were made: yes to all public safety requests and the deficit can't balloon past $1.5 million. Department level cuts will go through the ad hoc committee, too.
That budget variation should be up for review in June.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2391.