City Staff, Not Council, to Draft Turlock Budget

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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.

Comments 8

  1. Salary Raises says:

    This ought to work out well for employees as they give themselves raises and keep their department budgets off the radar.

  2. Talker says:

    Due to the down economy, Turlock has spent reserve funds to balance the budget each year since 2008….this is a complete lie. Look at the reserve funds from the last 3-4 years. They have grown every single year rising from 9 million to over 15 million this year. All on the backs of city employees.

  3. Jeeves says:

    Talker ~

    Where do you get your information? If its true I say congratulations to the Council and Administration for pulling that off. The other poster’s comments are just silly. Staff isn’t going to try to sneak in raises. Staff should be doing the budget just almost every other type of organization in the State.

    • Talker says:

      That information is directly from Roy Wasden. Turlockcitynews.com should do a little investigating before accepting City Hall’s word as Gospel. Remember, trust but verify. Roy himself produced a handout showing that the general fund reserve has continued to grow year after year. Ask him for it, or any labor group representative for it.

  4. Charley says:

    John Lazar has been a member of the city council since 1992 and mayor since 2006, and he’s “not the expert” on city budget matters?!? That’s called gross incompetence and a failure of leadership. Turlock needs a mayor who can bother to learn the needs of the city and the budget process, and hopefully be an expert after 20 years of public service.

  5. CITY VOICE says:

    When budgets are completed by city staff proclaiming doom and gloom and pending shortfalls, I become wary of possible manipulation of statistics to fit a desired picture of financial disasters. Mayor Lazar stated for 2013, there is an upswing in economic resurgence and a continuing healthy general reserve fund of $13.6 million dollars which is an accomplishment for any California Municipality. I would suggest a complete external audit of the city’s finances be completed by an outside and independent auditor, such as Maze and Assoc. in Pleasant Hill, Ca. to truly have an accurate picture of the city finances. The old saying of having the Fox guarding the Hen House seems to apply here when those drafting a city budget are politically and financially motivated to draw a bleak picture of Turlock’s finances.

    • Jeeves says:

      We are not the City of Bell. Do you guys need the work that badly at Maze? I think our city is doing just fine. It is a bit presumptuous to call yourself “City Voice.”

  6. Carl says:

    There is not a problem with city staff doing the heavy lifting on the Budget, that’s what they are paid to do, but it is also the Councils job to carefully review the work. That means taking a few weeks to tear it apart and really look at it, not just a simple council vote with less than a few days to look it over on their own.

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