MERCED — The first of four city budget meetings started Monday night with City Manager John Bramble explaining his somewhat optimistic assessment of municipal finances.
"We are starting to turn the corner," said Bramble. "I wish I could say we were around it, but we're just not there yet."
The proposed budget calls for about $32.5 million in spending, a 4.2 percent increase over last year.
Several council members expressed cautious satisfaction at the city's financial situation.
"I know this budget doesn't include any layoffs, which is wonderful," said Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling.
"This is a happier budget than what we've done in the past, and I appreciate that," said Councilman Josh Pedrozo.
At the same time, employee retirement obligations continue to mount, according to city projections.
"I don't see any cuts, but if we don't makes some changes, there will be in the future," said Mayor Stan Thurston.
The city's spending plan is based on projected revenue increases of 6 percent for sales taxes, 5.2 percent for business- license fees and 6.4 percent in revenue for Measure C, which funds public safety. Revenue from property tax is expected to remain flat.
The two-month general fund reserve stands at a little more than $5 million and is expected to increase about 4.2 percent over the next year. However, the fund has decreased by about $7 million since 2007 and is not expected to return to that level by the end of the decade.
Several people in the audience and the mayor requested that a more-detailed spending breakdown be made available to the public.
Such a document would take time to develop, but the city is working on making it easier for groups to petition the city to adjust the budget, Bramble said.
"Participatory budget process kind of came up in the last 30 days," he said. "However, as I've mentioned to a number of council people, part of the budget process for this year is to develop a methodology by which organizations could ask for funds."
The City Council will hold its next budget review session at 6 p.m. today and two more sessions May 22 and May 29.
The meetings are held in the City Council chambers at the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.
A public hearing on the budget will be held June 3. The budget is scheduled to go before the council for adoption June 17.
The proposed budget can be viewed at www. cityofmerced.org. The "City Budget" link can be found on the right side of the home page.
City activists to rally for youth services
Before the city's budget hearing tonight, area residents and local activists plan to rally outside the Merced Civic Center to demand more funding for youth services.
Residents, backed by the Merced Organizing Project and Building Healthy Communities, have called on city leaders to make recreational and other programs for youth a priority in this year's spending plan.
The coalition has requested an increase in discretionary general fund dollars that go to youth services.
Advocates also have called for establishing a youth advisory group to make recommendations to the city.
Organizers argue that increasing funding for parks and recreational programs will help keep youths out of trouble and indirectly save the city money.
Neighborhood youths and organizers are expected to speak at the rally, which starts at 5 p.m.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.