The following is an Op-Ed written by Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.
This last Tuesday, four out of five councilmembers voted in favor of my recommendations within a two-year budget. Based off a “line-by-line” analysis of our City's funds, this budget’s central goal is to address the need to pay down our City’s debt, to pay lump sum charges when it is to the City’s economic advantage, and to slowly restore the departments that made the largest concessions during the economic downturn.
The main component of the recommended budget is eliminating some of the City’s liabilities, primarily the $1,839,608 remaining balance of the City of Turlock Fire Department’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) Side Fund and the $3,600,474 remaining balance of the City of Turlock Police Department’s PERS Side Fund.
By using the $2,400,000 proceeds from the sale of the old 900 North Palm police station and adjacent public facilities and using $3,000,000 from the General Fund Reserve, the City will save about $615,367 per year in principle and interest payments. This means that, over the course of the next decade, Turlock will benefit from roughly $2,000,000 in interest savings alone. A large portion of these savings will be used to repay the General Fund Reserve as quickly as possible.
At current interest rates, this outstanding debt costs the City of Turlock 7.5% interest annually. The newly adopted budget takes money from our General Fund Reserve and strategically uses it to pay down this toxic debt. By comparison, this money would earn a miniscule quarter percent in interest if it sat idly in the General Fund Reserve. And this still leaves the General Fund Reserve balance at a healthy projection of $7,800,000 by the end of the year.
Additionally, PERS provides an option that allows the City to make a lump sum payment on our estimated PERS obligation for each of our PERS Groups (Police, Fire and Miscellaneous Groups). By making this lump sum payment at the beginning of the fiscal year, PERS will give a 3.5% discount on the City’s annual estimated PERS payment.
In addition to aggressively tackling our City’s debt and its outstanding payments, the Council has chosen to invest in some of our neglected areas of city services: from a “crack seal” contract to better preserve our roads, to the creation of a tree maintenance fund for low and fixed-income residents, to increasing the number of sidewalks and ramps that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We continue to show that this Council is committed to investing in our roadways, sidewalks, and neighborhoods.
In the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities, we are investing in some of our most-used recreation facilities by replacing the unreliable lighting at Pedretti Sports Complex and looking to increase two softball fields at Gemperle Sports Complex. These investments will enhance Turlock’s ability to generate revenue from increased use.
In the Department of Police Services, equipment for the re-instated Street Crimes Unit will be supplied, the creation of a crime analyst position will better assist patrol officers in their effort to proactively fight crime, and the addition of four dispatchers to the Emergency Communications Center will better assist all of our City’s departments in serving resident needs. Next month, the Council will take a historic vote to re-instate a two-dog K9 Unit to our police force.
In the Department of Fire Services, the allocation of “frontline funds” from Assembly Bill 172 will equip our department with much-needed tools and props for rescue training, additional generators, replacement firehose nozzles, and updated mobile radios. Additionally, this Council voted to accept a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. If awarded to the City of Turlock later in the year, the grant would fund three new firefighter positions for two years before the Council pays for their continued support.
Overall, this budget places our City on a clear path to a balanced budget by the end of the year, while also restoring the most vital needs of our fire, police, parks, recreation, public facilities, and engineering departments. It also allows the City to avoid nearly $2 million in interest payments by paying down debt with the highest interest rate.
I ran for mayor based on two basic principles: that I would offer a “clear vision” for our City, and that this would be accomplished through “bold leadership.” This adopted budget is just that: clear and bold. It is this Council’s responsibility to make sure taxpayer funds are used wisely. By adopting this bold budget, we have done just that.