The Turlock City Council eliminated nearly 40 positions throughout the organization Tuesday night. 23 people lost their jobs as Council made tough budget cut decisions.
Two of the most controversial cuts that were made included laying off the Chief Building Inspector, Mark Ellis, who has been with the City of Turlock for 20 years and Arts Facilitator Lisa McDermott.
The Building Department took the biggest hit of the city budget cuts as 8 people were laid off.
Builders and city staff question the city’s ability to provide services that won’t hinder the development community and economic development. People have also questioned the city’s liability for safety concerns after laying off the Chief Building Inspector. Councilwoman Mary Jackson had concerns that Turlock will gain a “terrible reputation” in the development industry throughout the region.
The proposed lay off of the Arts Facilitator has brought out much public comment in support of retaining the position and employee. By cutting General Fund contributions to the Arts fund and eliminating the Arts Facilitator position, children programs, fundraising, and coordinating efforts to build and run the Carnegie Center are expected to dwindle down to nothing.
City staff explained that the fundraising and children programs will have to be taken on by an already lean Recreation Division staff and that it will not be feasible to fundraise what the Arts Facilitator raised. Councilwoman Mary Jackson also made the point when she questioned and doubted that the revenue expected by her other Council colleagues and staff would be there. Mayor John Lazar voted in opposition to eliminating the position, along with Councilwoman Jackson, because he felt the continuance of 20 years of effort to enhance our culture here in Turlock was worth the investment.
Though the Turlock City Council adopted a budget, including using $2.6 million of General Fund Reserve monies, there are still budget issues that will need to be revisited soon.
A request by Councilman Kurt Spycher that Mayor John Lazar and Vice Mayor Ted Howze keep convening as the Budget Committee was accepted.
Mayor Lazar and Vice Mayor Howze will continue to work to resolve issues that include finding approximately $600,000 in funding for street lights and signal lights, alternatives to close the deficits in the mechanic shop area, how to deal with if employee merit pay postponements can not be agreed upon by bargaining units, and if the state keeps $1 million of city revenue to make up the state’s budget shortfalls.
Interim City Manager Gary Hampton said that we “can’t do more with less” in reference to beginning to address what community services may be cut in the future. Hampton wants the Council to begin prioritizing so staff can know implement their direction better and the community will know what to expect.
Vice Mayor Howze stated that he knew the reality is that we’re going to be doing less with less.
The City of Turlock still has a General Fund Reserve of nearly $14 million or about 44% of the General Fund budget. It is common for cities to have a reserve of around 15% while the City of Modesto has a reserve of around 7.5%.