Breaking from tradition, the Turlock City Council will not develop a city budget through a series of workshops or sub-committee meetings this year.
Instead, for the first time, city staff will develop the budget, then present the completed document to council for revisions.
Though the process is new to Turlock, most comparable Valley cities have staff draft a budget, according to Turlock staff who contacted neighboring city governments.
“It's pretty clear that all of our comparable cities in the Valley that we could get a response from … have the staff prepare the budget,” City Manager Roy Wasden said.
Like Ceres, Lodi, and Hanford, the Turlock budget process will still include study sessions with council prior to final budget adoption. Many city counsels instead discuss the budget only as it is adopted.
At council direction, the city-prepared budget will feature two alternatives – a status quo budget, carrying over all programs from this year, and a no-deficit-spending budget.
Due to the down economy, Turlock has spent reserve funds to balance the budget each year since 2008. This year Turlock planned for $1.6 million in deficit spending, but staff expect to spend less due to savings from a new city healthcare plan.
Though the gap has narrowed as the economy has rebounded and savings have been found, preparing a truly balanced budget with no deficit spending would likely result in cuts to city services.
“Make no mistake about it,” Wasden said. “We are at the cutting level. Further reductions will result in impacts to service.”
The no-deficit-spending budget is unlikely to be adopted, but was suggested by Councilmember Amy Bublak as a jumping off point for council.
She described it as a way for council to still have a say in the budget process. By seeing what an absolutely bare-bones budget would look like, council could better decide how much to spend from reserves and where to allocate that funding, rather than relying solely on staff.
“If we give (a target deficit spending figure) to you up front then we're not really prioritizing,” Bublak said. “We're asking you to.”
Other councilmembers had a different perspective, saying they'd appreciate a budget which recommended spending levels, keeping current services intact.
“I'm not the expert and I'm going to need expert advice,” Mayor John Lazar said. “Staff deals with this on a daily basis.”
With both options developed by city staff council will be able to pick and choose, possibly resulting in a budget that compromises between the two.
Staff expects to bring a completed budget document to council by the third week of April, giving councilmembers time to review the document before discussions start in May. The adjusted budget would likely see a council vote at the first meeting in June.
A final budget must be adopted by July 1.