Merced city turns attention to upcoming budget

abutt@mercedsunstar.comMay 30, 2012 

It's that time of the year again when city officials estimate how much money will flow into city coffers and what the general fund's deficit will be, so they can formulate a budget for the next fiscal year.

Merced city officials projected a total proposed budget at $191 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

In the past few years, the city has had to cut back on services and lay off employees to account for its general fund deficit. The general fund accounts for most the city's discretionary money.

Last year, the city laid off 36 employees.

Preliminary estimates are for six layoffs citywide, but five of those positions are vacant, according to City Manager John Bramble.

This year, general fund challenges include the loss of state redevelopment funding and the $300,000 in lost vehicle license fees, Bramble said.

The city's projected general fund amount is $33 million, while its deficit is $1.79 million for 2012-13, said Brad Grant, city finance officer.

But there is some good news for the city. The sales and use tax projections are a little better for the 2012-13 fiscal year, said Grant. Officials expect sales tax revenue to increase by 5.5 percent.

"That's positive news. If it hadn't been for that, there would have been more cuts," Bramble said.

The city has taken some money-saving measures for next year, such as reducing the cost of operating street lights, and trimming utility costs for its buildings. Other savings could come from contracting with private businesses for some services or possibly combining police and fire dispatch, according to a budget session presentation.

Bramble explained the consolidation of police and fire dispatch services was a long-term consideration and would not happen this year. "It would include the county and other cities in the county," he said.

In the city budget, public works gets the biggest piece of the pie, with $109 million, while public safety projections come in second at $33 million.

Labor negotiations with the Merced Fire Fighters Union Local 1479, the Merced Police Officers Association and the Merced Association of Police Sergeants are ongoing, so the budget impact is unclear.

During the budget session today, city officials will include answers to questions posed by the council members during a session last week.

Bramble said the city plans to have a public hearing on the budget at the council meeting on June 4 and hopes to adopt a budget on June 18.

The budget session is 5:30 p.m. in the Sam Pipes Room on the ground floor of the Merced Civic Center at 678 W. 18th St.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

Projected Numbers for 2012-13 city budget given by the city officials during a budget session last week:

Total budget: $191 million

Public works is the biggest portion of that, at $109 million. Second is public safety, at $33 million.

City's general fund: $33 million

Deficit for fiscal year: $1.79 million

Late June: The City Council will adopt the city budget.

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