TURLOCK — Election season just concluded, but it seemed like City Council members started the November races at their special meeting Thursday.
Councilmen Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher and Mayor John Lazar, whose seats are up for election this fall, engaged in a testy back-and-forth over proposals to trim expenses from the city's budget.
Howze proposed the city drop out of memberships in the League of California Cities and the Council of Mayors. He also suggested council members drop their medical benefits.
"As we ask employees to take cuts, I think we as the council need to do the same thing, lead with the cuts, i.e. take more than anybody else." Spycher said he supported Howze's ideas.
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Lazar said he had a philosophical difficulty with dropping health benefits, but "I will be happy to vote along with the full council if they so choose."
He defended the city's memberships in the League and the Council of Mayors. He pointed out that a trip to Washington, D.C. — for which he paid his own travel costs — garnered $1.7 million for the city's transportation center.
"I hope and pray that if council takes this action it'll be restored after November," he said.
Spycher said he wasn't trying to imply that the city wasn't getting value for its investment, but that at a time of deep budget cuts, Turlock can't afford the memberships. "This isn't personal," Spycher said.
"I take it personally," Lazar said. "It's personal to me."
Councilwoman Mary Jackson agreed with Lazar.
"We can't be isolationists," she said. "These other agencies are facing the same issues we are and they may have some ideas."
The item was not set for a vote. But the council generally agreed to compromise — drop the council's medical coverage, which will save the city $90,000 a year and keep the memberships in the League and the Council of Mayors, which together cost the city about $24,000.
Councilwoman Amy Bublak, whom Lazar referred to as the determining vote, declined to comment until the matter comes before the council next week as part of the overall budget.
"Stay tuned," she said.