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Budget Forum Attracts Interest
Wayne Pacheco acknowledges an Oakdale resident with a question at the city’s community wide public forum on May 7. Approximately 75 residents attended the meeting, and were split up into workshops of 25 people to provide city officials with opinions and ideas prior to the city council budget workshop on May 20. - photo by CRAIG MACHO/THE LEADER
Approximately 75 Oakdale residents attended a forum sponsored by the City of Oakdale on May 7 where they discussed the city’s fiscal crisis.
The meeting, hosted at the Gene Bianchi Community Center, was offered to solicit ideas and opinions on city services and programs prior to a city council budget hearing scheduled for Wednesday, May 20, when council members will begin to decide where they will impose $1.7 million in cuts.
Oakdale City Manager Steve Hallam provided a Power Point presentation to the group, where he spoke of how reduced city revenue in the form of lower property taxes and sales tax have impacted the city’s general fund.
“We’ve been spending more than we’ve been bringing in,” Hallam said, noting the city reserve fund is down to 20 percent of the budget. He added the city needs to plan three to five years ahead to address revenues that are predicted to continue to fall as the economy settles.
Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson told residents city revenues are getting worse as the country’s economic woes continue.
“We are asking for your input,” he said.
City department directors have outlined the cuts they believe are necessary to reduce their budgets by 15 percent at previous budget workshops.
The police department, the largest organization funded by the city with a budget of $4.51 million, consumes the largest amount of the city’s general fund. Police Chief Marty West provided a reorganization plan at a city council budget workshop on March 23 where he detailed the changes the department will need to adopt to trim $681,000 from their budget.
The fire department, meanwhile, will not replace two firefighters who retire this year, going from 19 line positions to 17. The fire department also will reduce from three firefighters to two the minimum staffing requirements at Station Two, and an executive secretary position was saved by splitting her salary and work between fire and city finance.
According to Fire Chief Mike Botto, revenue created by an updated hydrant maintenance fee to the city, as well as reimbursement from the State of California generated by mutual aid from last year’s Southern California fires, made up budget shortfalls.
Dave Myers, the acting public works director, provided a plan at a March 30 city council budget workshop that included $128,000 in cuts to reach the required 15 percent reduction.
He said these reductions would come from moving a maintenance technician, who normally works on city vehicles, out of the city garage half time to the sewer division.  
Myers said street sweeping will be reduced to one time a year, except for the state highways that run through town, where the city contracts with Caltrans.
Parks and Recreation Director Cheryl Bolin, at the same budget workshop, proposed cuts of $187,000 to Parks and Recreation by reducing leaf pickup to once a year; reducing tree maintenance; implementing a park registration fee for non city residents; eliminating weed abatement; reducing street wall maintenance; establishing a $25 membership fee for the senior center; increasing the after school program registration fee; increasing facility fees for the city annex; and implementing a facility fee for the youth center.
Bolin was asked to reduce 20 percent from the Parks and Recreation budget.
After hearing an overview of the city’s financial condition – including information regarding sales and property taxes that have dropped 14 and 17 percent since 2007 – residents split into three groups of 25, where community members helped facilitate the ensuing discussion.
During the smaller group meetings, residents were split on what city services to cut, although many wanted to keep public safety as a priority.
City officials said they will gather the information all three groups provided and prepare a report for the city council.
“It’s a start,” said Oakdale resident Carlos Silva after the meeting. “It’s good that they’re getting public input.”
Silva said he would like the city to maintain services they currently provide as the city continues to grow. He said one of top priorities should be safety for individual families.
“The reality is, how much can we really maintain?” he asked.
Rhonda Waddell said she thought the forum was a step in the right direction. She said she believes the city should sustain police and fire services, while cutting other areas of the budget.
“They should cut the trolley, crossing guards, and possibly administration,” she said.
An Oakdale resident for 34 years, Nate Stever said the city should maintain police and fire services, as well as the senior center. He thought city employees should also take a wage cut to maintain these services.
“They should lower wages, not cut people,” Stever said, pointing out wages are dropping across the state as the economy continues to suffer.
“We have a nice town because of police and fire and parks and rec,” he said.
At 18 years old, Oakdale’s Kailagh Carroll was one of the younger residents attending the forum. She said she opposed any cuts to public safety.
“If we’re not safe, what would we do?”
Bethany Morgan said she realized the importance of public safety after one of her family members was killed in Riverbank. She thought city parks should also be maintained.
“This is a community based city, and parks for the community are important,” she said.
Hallam said the May 20 budget hearing — which will be the only topic on the council’s agenda – will be held in the City Council Chambers at 277 No. Second Ave. A large television will be available at the Gladys L. Lemmons Senior Center for those who are not able to attend the meeting. The meeting will also be broadcast live on Comcast Cable Channel 7.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m.