After eyeballing the coffers six ways from Sunday, Oakdale City Council members approved the preliminary 2018-19 city budget at a late June meeting, prior to the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. Fire service remained at the center of the discussions as the decision was made to draw funds from the General Fund to cover funding for three fire positions at Fire Station 28 on G Street for the next year.
The Hail Mary move required some financial footwork but a victory dance would be premature as the solution is a temporary one as operating in a deficit for the foreseeable future was a chief concern for council members.
In order to fund the positions, staff recommended reducing the General Fund transfers to the OPEB liability account fund 520 from $500,000 to $350,000. This change will enable the city to increase the fire department expenditures by $400,000, which will fill the three positions using existing fire staffing with overtime.
The decision will keep the General Fund Reserve at 41 percent but does significantly reduce the funds being earmarked for future pension liabilities and other employee liabilities.
As previously reported, for the three positions in question, a SAFER grant previously paid for those three positions but Oakdale was denied an extension, therefore putting the responsibility of the positions on the city’s shoulders.
Initially, city staff had recommended cutting the three positions but after meeting with fire personnel, discovered the additional benefits of keeping Fire Station 28 fully staffed, which include resource sharing.
Without a fully staffed Station 28, Oakdale would not be eligible to resource share with the neighboring jurisdictions.
However, as Councilman Rich Murdoch pointed out, the sole reason council was willing to entertain this temporary fix was because wheels have been set in motion to create a regional fire agency, which would theoretically consolidate multiple agencies throughout the valley, easing the financial burden on individual cities for fire service.
City Manager Bryan Whitemyer stated in his presentation, “With the City of Ceres Fire Department currently without a fire chief and Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District currently without a fire chief, it appears that the present time provides a great opportunity to move in that direction.”
Councilman J.R. McCarty agreed, saying, he hoped that everyone could put their egos aside to make it happen.
Council approved the preliminary budget moving forward for the Fiscal Year 2018-19. The next budget meeting will be held in October or November to approve the final budget for 2018-19.