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Swearing In Due Dec. 6
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Swearing in of new Escalon City Council member Robert Swift and re-elected councilman Ed Alves is due Monday night, Dec. 6 at the regular meeting of the council.

It will also be the final session for outgoing council member Walt Murken, who has served the last two years as mayor. Murken is completing eight years on the council and did not seek re-election. He previously spent several years with the Escalon Police Department, moving up the ranks to serve as chief, before retiring from that post. He then moved on to council service and served two terms, including the two-year mayoral stint.

Having served as the city's top cop and as a member of the council, Murken said he has enjoyed the chance to be involved in the community where he was born and raised.

"Unfortunately, the last couple of years have been kind of tough, the budget issues, the economy," he admitted. "We've had some businesses close and we've had to cut back."

Escalon is not unique in that area, as many municipalities are facing tough choices when it comes to staffing and service levels. There have been cuts here as well, including cutbacks in the form of furlough days for city staff, but Murken said everyone has pulled together to make it work.

"We've always been conservative," he added of the council's fiscal policy. "We budget conservatively, estimate our revenues conservatively, and we've always put money away for this type of situation."

That has left the city with a healthy reserve that, even though they don't prefer the option, can utilize in case of financial emergency.

On the plus side, Murken said there have been some successes and projects seen through to completion while he has served on the council.

"I think finally getting the quiet zones for the railroad, that was a big one, and getting the new police department up and running," he said of the main highlights.

The quiet zones use directional wayside horns at the crossings in town, blowing just at that crossing to alert motorists to the trains instead of having trains blare their horns from one end of town to the other. The wayside horns are at a lower decibel level than the horns on the trains, cutting down substantially on the noise.

The new police department facility on McHenry Avenue is the first phase in what officials hope will also someday include a new City Hall, with the building shell next to the existing police department due for development in the future.

Murken went on to add that events such as National Night Out and Park Fete were also enjoyable from his view as a council member, with the annual July fete more of a social event, bringing old friends back together, while National Night Out in August served as a good council-community platform.

"We got to meet the folks, spend some quality time with people and they would open up, let you know what they're happy with and what they're not happy with," Murken said.

Key to being part of an elected council in a small community, he added, is taking the time to listen. It's that advice he offered to newcomer Swift, about to start his first term on the panel.

"I would just always say keep Escalon in mind, leave your personal feelings at home and do what's best for the community," Murken said.

Monday night's meeting, Dec. 6, will be the first at the new earlier start time approved by the council, with the session starting at 7 p.m. at the Ekholm Room of the Escalon Public Library on Second Street. Murken will turn over the gavel and officially step down from the panel, with Alves and Swift then taking the oath of office and accepting their seats on the dais.