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City Money Woes

POSTED January 18, 2011 3:10 p.m.

In the face of tough economic times, the City of Oakdale made substantive accomplishments for 2010. Unfortunately, the same creativity and prudent budget spending that was vital for these achievements are going to be needed for 2011.

City Manager Steve Hallam pointed out several accomplishments by the city over the last year in the areas of public safety, redevelopment, and public works. Hallam also predicted that as the economy improves, Oakdale will be in a position to take advantage of the moves it made in trying times.

“Despite a poor economy of three years, the city has accomplished many initiatives that set the stage for the community to respond quickly as the economy turns or picks up,” said Hallam.

He credits the city council members and their input at bi-annual strategic planning retreats to focus the city toward the direction it took and the decisions that were made.

“What I cannot underscore enough is the importance of these retreats,” said Hallam. “Pausing every six months gives staff direction from the city council on what is important to the community. As the council sets priorities, we implement them.”

Hallam pointed out that 75 percent of the city’s discretionary budget goes to public safety — police and fire services.

“As with most communities, these are priority services desired by the citizens and council,” Hallam said.

One of the major accomplishments for 2010 Hallam cited was the partnership agreement established with Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District and the city. This agreement was a result of newer ways to deliver city services with an emphasis on public safety that the city explored a couple of years ago.

The agreement, finalized in 2010, includes jointly staffing Fire Station Number 1 with a three to four-person engine company. Additionally, the agreement also provides for the sharing of chief officers in a cost-effective manner, reducing operating costs to both the City of Oakdale and Oakdale Rural Fire District and providing broader coverage for property owners in both areas.

Hallam said the city is now exploring the same type of agreement to include Stanislaus Consolidated Fire.

The police department was successful in obtaining outside money to upgrade its equipment and services. Funds from the state-managed Customer Premise Fund were used to improve the 9-1-1 system. Also utilized was $8000 from California Homeland Security to upgrade radio communication equipment and the department used a $100,000 law enforcement grant for overtime to fight chronic crime related problems and to purchase a patrol vehicle.

The police department also expanded into providing contracted animal control services for the City of Riverbank.

“It’s working out well to the citizens of Riverbank. It helped Oakdale to keep a shelter open and put money from the contract to the police budget,” said Hallam. “Our shelter has one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the valley.”

Another accomplishment Hallam lists is the successful negotiations with the city’s employee bargaining units that required a 5 percent wage concession from employees. As a result, the employees will pay the 5 percent as a part of their contribution toward their retirement system that was previously paid by the city.

The Oakdale Community Redevelopment Agency approved the final agency report and approved a plan to add 330 acres to its territory along the F Street corridor. Hallam stated that the area is zoned for commercial businesses but previously couldn’t get the improvements needed to develop the area.

“This is a huge undertaking,” stressed Hallam. “It has potential for great economic development and benefit for Oakdale.”

In 2010 the City of Oakdale merged its Parks Division into the Public Works Department. New structures were installed in Bridle Ridge and Vineyard Parks. The city’s Dog Park was opened in spring 2010.

The future, however, is going to bring many challenges to Hallam and his staff.

There is finally a stabilization of the declines in the city’s property tax and sales tax revenues — the two most important sources of Oakdale’s tax base.

Hallam said there was a slight 1.4 percent drop in the property tax assessment for Oakdale in the final quarter of 2010. Sales tax revenues, however, rose 5 percent and 3.9 percent the last two quarters.

The city was notified of a $100,000 increase in costs for employee health care at the beginning of the year and cost to the city for employee retirement benefits are expected to increase as well.

At the beginning of the year, Police Chief Marty West advised Hallam that 2011 may bring an end to vehicle license fees that went to the city and booking fees may be reinstituted by the state legislature. If this happens, it could be a minimum of a $160,000 impact to the police department’s 2011-2012 budget.

“It’s time to stop the bleeding and see sources (of income) increase,” said Hallam. “Even if things stabilize, we’re going to need revenue to catch up.”

He pointed out that two years ago budget cuts were made that brought city services to a minimum. Last year dramatic cuts were made to city departments, which resulted in four police officer layoffs and three firefighter cuts as well as reduced personnel in other departments.

“This year tough decisions about cuts will have to be made,” said Hallam, “but it’s too early to predict.”

The city has been dipping into reserves to maintain service levels, and a once 20 percent reserve now sits at 16 percent.

The cuts the city has made, according to Hallam, are short-term solutions and have long-term effects. Hallam used the elimination of city street sweeping as an example, identifying that more debris gets into the sewer pumps, resulting in a shorter life for equipment and overtime is needed for personnel when streets flood from clogging.

Hallam complimented the city employees that have been “hunkering down and digging in.”

“Cutbacks have an impact on morale,” Hallam said. “It brings out the best of the best and the worst of the worst. The employees are stepping up and facing the challenges head on.”

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