But would putting the discretionary dollars back into the general fund help close the county's budget deficit?
"It would reduce it (the deficit) by $200,000, but is that going to close the deficit? No," Brown said.
"These resources have been set aside to address the needs of the community. Some of them go into youth programs -- which is a long-term investment."
Some critics of the discretionary funds took aim at the fact that the money rolls over each year.
Community activist MaryAnn McKissick wondered why the funds aren't fully spent annually, as opposed to being rolled over, if they're so vital.
"Why do some supervisors hole up a quarter-of-a-million dollars or more, letting it accumulate and languish year-after-year?" she said.
Merced radio talk show host Casey Steed ran for the supervisor seat in District 2 twice -- once in 2008 and again in 2012. During both campaigns, he took a strong stand against use of discretionary dollars.
"To me, it's a form of political patronage and I don't feel that in these economic times, we can afford to have these funds. It just lends itself to corruption," Steed said. He said the selection process for the benefiting organizations is also outdated and needs to change.
According to Brown, board members work with the community and funding requests go directly through them.
"It's too arbitrary the way it's handed out and it's a form of favoritism," Steed said. "It needs to be much more transparent. There needs to be a benefit cost analysis for how these funds are given ... when we do spend it, we spend it foolishly and the things we buy are not useful."
For example, Steed cited District 2 using more than $15,000 in 2011 to update the county library's work stations without adding Wi-Fi capability.
Another issue to come under fire is supervisors hiring personal assistants, and paying their salary through the discretionary dollars. Districts 1 and 4 paid for personal assistants. District 1 paid the assistant $23,249.18 in salary; District 4 paid $5,111.92. District 3 had one expenditure titled "Salary for Extra Help," which amounted to $151.35.
"There's just not enough hours in the day to get everything done," said District 4 supervisor Deidre Kelsey. "The main things my assistant (handles) are scheduling, research and attending meetings if there's a conflict. She only works a few hours a week."
Kelsey said the assistant's salary is budgeted to $5,800 per year, and she does not go over.
Layoffs not fiscal
When asked how an assistant is a public expenditure, Brown said they serve an important purpose.
"There is a benefit," Brown said. "The supervisors use those assistants to help them address and assist constituents in the community."
Meanwhile, about six county positions were eliminated during the 2012-13 fiscal year, including a nurse practitioner, supervising librarian and two correctional facility cooks.
Brown said some of the county's layoffs were a result of re-evaluating how the county does business, not because of the budget.
"No one wants to see people lose their job, but it's not always fiscal," Brown said. "And $200,000 would not have funded all those positions."
For now, the county is not getting rid of the discretionary dollars.
"It's a policy decision that's looked at annually," Brown said.
A full list of each district's expenditures for the fiscal year through October 2012 is available online at www.mercedsunstar.com.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.