The Turlock City Council unanimously approved an austere 2013-2014 city budget on Tuesday – just less austere than initially proposed.
At the last minute, councilmembers unanimously voted to spend an extra $400,000 from reserves to fund additional firefighter and police overtime hours, as well as the Turlock Partnership Incentives Program.
“The purpose of government is to do for people what they can not do for themselves,” Turlock City Councilwoman Amy Bublak said, echoing Thomas Jefferson as she lobbied for the extra funding.
City Manager Roy Wasden's proposed budget called for myriad reductions as the City of Turlock sought to narrow a budget deficit as large as $3.5 million.
Chief among the cuts are four police officers and three firefighters, previously funded by federal grants. Even with the additional funding authorized by the Turlock City Council, those cuts will remain. None of the positions are currently filled.
Hiring new employees to fill those positions would have come at a substantial cost – $735,000. Benefits amount to about about 42 percent of a city employee's full cost to the city.
And those benefit costs would continue to increase – substantially – in the years to come. As those retirement and healthcare costs skyrocket, the city could face layoffs even at its present staffing level.
Hiring more employees now, Wasden said, would essentially set up the City of Turlock to fire others in a year or two should the economy not rebound impossibly quickly.
“We do not want to be in a position where we have to lay people off,” Wasden said. “We had to do that back in 2009 and we found that the costs were pretty significant.”
That year, the City of Turlock laid off 21 non-public safety employees, just a year after the city hired a dozen new firefighters. The costs weren't just monetary but emotional as well, with morale at the city crushed.
Rather than hire new employees, Turlock hopes to mitigate some of the loss with $400,000 in additional funding for overtime hours.
As initially proposed, the cuts would have reduced staffing to two firefighters at Station 3, down from the current three-man team. The Turlock Police Department may have been forced to reduce or disband special units to maintain minimum staffing levels in other areas.
With only the extra overtime funding, Turlock hopes to maintain the three-man team at Station 3 and retain near-current police service levels.
“You're trying to do with $400,000 what you would do with $800,000 full-time dollars,” Wasden said.
Overtime is less expensive for the city, at time-and-a-half, than paying benefits for a new employee. But overtime has its own drawbacks.
“As our employees work a lot of overtime it wears them out,” Wasden said. “There's a balance to be maintained.”
Fully staffing a third firefighter at Station 3 would cost approximately $270,000. To staff the position through overtime would cost $230,000.
Four police officers would cost $445,000. An equivalent amount of overtime hours would cost about $350,000.
A portion of the extra money will also go to save the Turlock Partnership Incentive Program, a project created by Bublak which offers cash to new businesses in Turlock. The program was previously on the chopping block in Wasden's proposed budget.
The program directly led to the creation of 52 full-time and 28 part-time jobs, with participant businesses more likely to succeed due to the required business plan. The City of Modesto started their own copy of the successful program last week.
The $400,000 in additional funding will be divided between police, fire, and the Partnership Incentives Program by Wasden and city staff. Expenditures will be reviewed in January to ensure the funding is well-spent.
With the extra spending, Turlock will operate at a $1.4 million deficit for the year, up from an initially proposed $1 million deficit.
The deficit spending will dip deeper into Turlock's $14 million reserve than expected. Of that reserve, only $4 million is available to spend; $6 million is a permanent reserve, and $2 million is dedicated to equipment replacement.
The budget still cuts spending from a year ago, with sharp reductions across almost all Turlock departments.
The adopted budget would leaves 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 will lose some access to training, background investigation, nuisance abatement, and things like transcription services – likely leaving officers to pick up the slack. And costs to participate in the PLAY afterschool program would increase by $1 per week.
“I think it's a very austere budget,” Turlock City Councilman Steven Nascimento said. “We don't try to hide that fact. These are difficult times, and they will continue to be difficult times.”
Though the choices may have been tough, Turlock Mayor John Lazar commended city staff and councilmembers for coming together to develop an acceptable compromise, which all could agree on.
“We haven't had a 5-0 budget for a long time,” Lazar said.