Seven candidates running for three spots on the Merced City Council in the Nov. 8 municipal election dropped by the Sun-Star editorial board over the past two weeks to discuss the city's budget woes, prior decisions made by the council and bringing jobs and businesses to the community.
The four-year terms of council members Noah Lor, John Carlisle and Michele Gabriault-Acosta end this year, creating the openings.
The mayor's spot is also up for grabs. Gabriault-Acosta is termed out for her council position, and is running for mayor.
Sun-Star phone calls and letters to candidate Carl Pollard weren't returned.
The seven who spoke with the Sun-Star: Charles Bolin, Carlisle, Richard Cervantes, Tony Dossetti, Alex Gallardo Jr., Lor and Mike Murphy (the Sun-Star will profile each of these and the mayoral candidates beginning next week).
Here's what they told the Sun-Star's editorial board:
Most of the candidates agreed the budget would be the most troublesome issue to tackle in coming years. Carlisle, 64, an incumbent, called it "the big elephant in the room.
"As far as who would be left out in the reduction area, I don't think we can, on a practical basis, leave any group out," said Carlisle.
Cervantes, 29, wanted to get to a point at which public employee unions can fund themselves the way construction or trade unions do.
Dossetti, 61, who retired as chief of police after 30 years in the department, said they would need to "sit down and look at all the services the city offers, like contracting out to consultants." He said the city should contract out less because there are educated people who work in city administration. "We pay those guys to do the job," he said. Dossetti said a last resort would be raising taxes.
Gallardo doesn't want to see any more jobs cut; instead the city should figure out wise ways to use the money. The city could advertise itself with billboards to promote a more business-friendly atmosphere.
Meanwhile, incumbent Lor, 48, and a clinical therapist, said the city needs to build on the economic development strategy to bring more business in and get more tax revenue, so no more jobs are cut. "Every service is important," he said.
During a question about the city budget, public safety emerged as a topic of discussion for some of the candidates. Cervantes said the city would need to work hard not to lose any more services from police and fire. "It's going to be pick and choose at what other services we can get by without," he said.
Bolin, 25, agreed, saying the city should keep anything related to public safety. "No more cuts to fire, no more cuts to police," he said.
Carlisle's idea of public safety extended beyond police and fire. It includes supporting education and prevention efforts to keep people, especially kids, out of drugs and gangs that lead to crime.
Murphy, 32, foresees there'll be tough decisions to make on the council. "Everything has to be on the table because that's the only way the city can come up with a workable solution," he said. And once everything is on the table, he said it was important to recognize what the public prioritizes, which is public safety. There are items along the way that can be privatized, such as nonessential services.
"Like what we've done that already with the graffiti abatement program," Murphy said.
Facilities' impact fees
A point of consensus among more than half the candidates was the importance of the Merced Vision 2030 General Plan, which will influence public facilities' impact fees. The council last month extended a temporary reduction in those fees on commercial and residential development for another two years. The city uses the Merced Vision 2015 General Plan, which was adopted in 1997. The approval of the new plan will be on the City Council's agenda in the next few weeks.