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Turlock considering tax hikes, cannabis sales to make more money

A strict budget that went into effect July 1 is impacting services in Turlock, including the Fire Department.

TURLOCK, Calif. — Turlock City Council members face some tough choices, as a very tight budget goes into effect.

That includes operating the fire department at smaller staffing levels when someone takes paid time off because there's less overtime pay for a substitute.

The city made cuts across the board, as city manager Bob Lawton said the local government is basically living "paycheck to paycheck. This city has virtually no savings account.”

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The city's general fund reserve - essentially a local government's savings account - has approximately $2.3 million, he said. That’s enough to run the city for about two weeks.

He blamed past leaders and administrators, who set up recurring expenses to be paid with non-recurring streams of revenue.

“We have already squeezed all of the juice out of our oranges. We can’t print on three sides of paper,” Lawton told City Council Tuesday evening. “We are running an incredibly lean government as it is…There is no slack in our budgets…and we still can’t provide the public with the kinds of services our employees desperately want to do.”

Lawton, who has been with the city of Turlock for a year now, said the city has grown to about 75,000 residents, and the local government is not configured to sustainably support a population of that size.

This year’s strict budget aims to get the city moving in the right direction.

“We have a budget in place right now for 2019-20 that is not pleasant,” Lawton said. “We can’t do everything we want for our people, but we can do this for a year…If we push ourselves and we keep tightening our belts, we can do it for two years. But as city manager, I cannot recommend we do it beyond that.”

That’s why he and council members are exploring new sources of revenue for the city.

Lawton and his staff will research possible tax increases to bring more money to the city's bank account, including increasing the city’s sales tax as much as one percent. However, no tax increase would come before voters for approval until the November 2020 ballot.

The city is also exploring allowing cannabis sales to bring in some cash, but Lawson called that an unreliable source of income and recommended that any cannabis revenue goes into the city’s reserve fund instead of relying on it to fund daily government functions.

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