Merced discusses paying for public activities

abutt@mercedsunstar.comJune 5, 2012 

Funding for youth soccer and baseball leagues, flag football and basketball programs.

All those activities -- and more -- were the focus of the city's parks and community service budget discussion at Monday night's council meeting on city finances.

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 of the city's discretionary money.

Last year, the city laid off 36 employees to balance its budget.

In the 2012-13 proposed budget, parks and community service accounts for $931,567. That's with no money budgeted for certain youth services such as swimming lessons, outdoor recreation or recreational swimming, according to budget documents.

City Manager John Bramble provided funding alternatives to the council that would put either $440,000 or $210,000 into the recreation budget from the general fund.

Those amounts could expand senior, adult and youth programs, open the McNamara Pool for the 2013 season or increase contributions to youth activities organizations, among other things, according to a budget report.

Bramble said the money could come from cutting expenditures of other general fund operations or from the general fund reserves.

Depending on the amount of additional funding the city kicks into the recreation budget, from three to 12 positions would have to be eliminated."This is one of the more difficult, if not the most difficult budget, in the city," he said. "We've had a lot of cooperation among all of the staff on what is the best way to reduce expenditures."

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

The city's projected general fund total is $33 million, while its deficit is $1.79 million for 2012-13.

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

Marlene Murphy, president of the Merced Zoological Society, said parks and recreation was important for the community.

"We have mostly our youth out here tonight," she said of the packed audience made up of young people, adults, public safety officers and other community members. "We want to make sure they have a quality type of life, too, not just the people who can afford that."

Tony Slaton of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Merced County explained how the organization helps young people in Merced.

"It's about recreation but not just about recreation," he said. "Our priorities include academic success, good character and leadership development and healthy lifestyles."

Mayor Stan Thurston said he wasn't in favor of using general fund reserves.

"We have to live with what we get. The savings account isn't there anymore," he said. "Put as much money back in recreation, without spending the reserves and no cuts in public safety."

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said she was willing to use some of the general fund reserves to help the recreation budget.

"I subscribe to the philosophy in investing in youth is investing in public safety," she said, adding she didn't want to cut public safety.

The public hearing on the budget was continued to the June 18 council meeting in the Civic Center Chambers on West 18th Street. A special budget session is set for June 11 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall chambers.

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

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