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Tough Budget Battle Looms
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Going in, they already know it will be a tough year. But they're hoping to make it through without having to sacrifice staff or services.

Escalon City Council members were slated to sit down with interim City Manager Henry Hesling in a daytime meeting Tuesday, March 16 after The Times went to press, for a goal setting session and preliminary discussion of the 2010-2011 city budget.

"I asked the council if we could have a workshop, get some goals and objections set so I can start working on the budget," said Hesling.

Mayor Walt Murken said it's typical for council members to get together prior to the start of budget talks and draft some goals for the year ahead.

"With the budget and (financial) things the way they are, I think our goals will be pretty simple and bare bones," explained Murken. "Until the state finishes with their budget, we won't know what's going to happen."

The state has made a practice of taking cash from local coffers to help balance their own budget the past few years, officials noted, and that has translated into cities having to come up with creative ways to bridge the gap.

For Escalon, it meant pay cuts and furlough days for employees last year.

"I think Henry's objective is to give us the best guidance he can to get us through," Murken added.

The meeting was slated to start at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Ekholm Meeting Room at the Escalon Library and the session was open to the public, hosted as a workshop.

I just want to get the feel for where they are," Hesling added of council members. "My main goal here is to get the budget in place."

Councilman Gary Haskin said he appreciated the fact that department heads were being included in budget talks from the beginning, since he said it will take everyone working together to craft a plan that fits the city.

"We as a council can come up with ideas but if they are not practical, if they are not going to work, they're no good," Haskin said.

By having contact with department heads, council members will be able to discuss their ideas and have a beneficial give and take with the employees doing the work in the city on a day to day basis. They will be the ones that will know what initiatives will or will not work, said Haskin.

"We want to set out some goals and the policies to achieve them," the councilman added of objectives for the Tuesday meeting. "I think the biggest thing is to make sure we get everyone on the same page.

"Hopefully we can get it (budget discussions) going and maintain what services we already have."

The budget for the current fiscal year, 2009-2010, was adopted late and some revisions were made at midyear to keep it balanced. Hesling said he hopes to have the 2010-2011 spending plan in place for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

"I want to have a budget to the council by the first or second meeting in June," Hesling said. "That's my main aim."