As the City of Turlock attempts to narrow a $3.5 million budget deficit, one near-inevitability is apparent: Turlock will likely employ fewer police officers and firefighters next year.
Three of four Turlock budget alternatives would include cutting seven public safety positions, currently funded by federal grants. Those grants are due to expire this year.
“It will mean a reduction in allocated positions, but it won't mean layoffs,” said Interim Police Chief Steven Williams, noting the positions have been held vacant in recent months due to anticipated budget cuts. “… Some service levels will need to change.”
The proposed reductions would see the elimination of four Turlock Police officer positions, previously funded by a federal grant which expired in May. The reduction would come on top of an elimination of three officer positions last year. The Turlock Police Department's sworn staffing would fall from 81 to 74 in three years.
Three Turlock firefighter positions, also funded by a federal grant, would also be discontinued. The change would reduce the Turlock Fire Department's staffing from 13 to 12 firefighters on staff at all times. One station would likely drop from a traditional three-man team to a two-man team.
Filling the four previously grant-funded police positions would cost $445,000. Filling the three firefighter positions would cost $290,000.
Only one, department-recommended alternative budget, would retain the positions – and would require $3.5 million in deficit spending. To maintain a status quo budget, though without the grant-funded positions, would take $1.7 million in deficit spending.
Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden recommends cutting another $700,000 from that status quo budget – items such as IT support, equipment repair funds, and the Turlock Partnership Incentive Program, which offers grants to new businesses – to get costs more in-line with expenses. Turlock would still operate at a $1 million budget deficit under Wasden's proposal, despite the significant cuts.
“I would even call it a pretty austere budget,” Wasden said.
The proposed budget would leave Turlock's Fire Department unable to deal with unanticipated equipment or facility failure, and unable to replace a 22-year-old set of Jaws of Life. The Turlock Police Department would lose access to training, overtime hours, and things like transcription services – likely leaving officers to pick up the slack.
“Higher paid positions will be paid to do the work of lower paid jobs, because the work still has to be done,” Williams said.
A completely balanced budget would require even more severe cuts, including 19 layoffs.
Turlock is currently sitting on a healthy $13 million reserve fund, reducing the need to adopt a completely balanced budget. But the actual usable portion of that reserve is far smaller.
Councilmembers previously agreed to hold $6.5 million in hard reserve funds, for use only in absolute emergencies. A further $2.4 million is set aside for large capital purchases, like replacing old fire engines.
That leaves only $4 million free to spend. If Turlock spends $1 million this year, as Wasden recommends, only $3 million in free reserves will remain.
“We're at a point that we actually do need to tackle getting our revenues and expenditures into balance,” Wasden said.
And costs are expected to increase in the coming years – particularly retirement charges.
“No doubt about it, it's going to be expensive,” Wasden said.
The Turlock City Council will review proposals for the city's non-general fund budget on May 28. A final decision on which budget alternative to adopt, and subsequent budget adoption, are expected June 11.