TURLOCK — The City Council Tuesday adopted a budget for the next fiscal year, but a lot of work — and cutting — remains to be done.
The $30 million general fund remains $3.6 million in the red, City Manager Roy Wasden said in a report. Some of that can come from the city's $17 million reserve, but Wasden cautioned that the city can't keep operating in a deficit with no improvement in the economy on the horizon.
Council members, who last year laid off 22 employees, resisted a proposal that would cost three employees their jobs in the building and engineering departments. With two engineering employees retiring, the department would be reduced by five positions.
"The bottom line is there's not enough work coming through to keep people there busy," Wasden said.
Development Services Director Mike Pitcock said the employees are busy, but they could spend less time with contractors and builders. "We're going to have guys doing 15, 18 inspections a day, and they're going to be running pretty hard."
Councilman Ted Howze urged the council to cut the jobs: "If we don't do the layoffs now, the hole gets deeper."
Councilman Kurt Spycher agreed.
"I'm not excited about this in any way, but this would bring the workload in balance with the staffing," he said.
Mayor John Lazar and Councilwoman Mary Jackson said they were concerned the cuts would discourage new businesses from coming to Turlock.
"We need to make sure our door is open," Jackson said. "That one person who walks in could be the project that turns it all around."
Howze's proposal to eliminate the positions failed on a 3-2 vote, with he and Spycher voting for it. A proposal by Councilwoman Amy Bublak to hold off on the cuts for six months to see how the economy changes passed on the same vote.
The budget isn't finished — the city is seeking reductions in pay and health benefits from its unions. The council gave Wasden a July 15 deadline to finish negotiations.
Other decisions were easier to make. The council voted unanimously to defund health insurance for elected positions in Turlock, despite concerns by some the change might discourage people from running for office.
"Nobody runs for council for the health care," Howze said.
The move will save about $90,000 per year.
Allison Van Guilder, interim division manager of the Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Department, delivered some good news: The city's appeal at the last council meeting for donations to keep the pool at Turlock High School open for recreational swimming this summer worked.
The recreation department had proposed offering recreational swimming at only the city-owned Columbia Pool.
Not only did people, groups and businesses step forward with more than $8,000 to keep Turlock High's pool open, the firefighters' union donated $6,000 to keep the pool at Pitman High open, as well.