MERCED — The push to fund services for at-risk youth took center stage at the Merced City Council's final budget planning session this week, with advocates pleading for more resources.
Nearly a dozen speakers appealed to the council, calling for the city to allocate 3 percent of general fund spending, or about $283,000, to youth services.
The city has proposed spending $693,542 for parks and community services.
Samuel Rangel, a former gang member who co-founded two nonprofit youth organizations, reminded the council that all children are considered at-risk.
"As a former person recruiting kids into the gang lifestyle, I didn't care where you were from poor or rich, the son of a cop or a lawyer I saw an opportunity to make them one of mine," Rangel said. "No kids can go through life without being at risk for something."
Tony Slaton, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, clarified the definition of "at-risk youth" at the request of Councilman Josh Pedrozo.
Slaton said there are many definitions, including children who are at-risk at home or of failing in school, or youth who face delinquency or incarceration.
"We have a lot of kids who are on the fence," Slaton told the council. "Support and encouragement makes a big difference in their lives."
City Manager John Bramble presented two options for changing the proposed budget.
Option 1 proposed adding $25,000 for a Youth Council Formation Plan as a one-time expense.
Option 2 looked at adding $5,000 to the Recreation and Community Services Budget to implement a youth council, but removed the $25,000 funding for the Youth Council Formation Plan.
Instead, Bramble said, the city would rely on outside funding from a state endowment grant as a supplement.
Option 2 proposed "pursuing alternatives" for providing animal control services, a request of Merced residents who said the task of controlling strays is too big for the city's lone full-time animal control officer.
Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling asked Bramble to define the alternatives.
Bramble said they include working with the county to provide extra services, using the city development service's code enforcement personnel to help out, or adding another animal control officer.
Maria Navarette, a south Merced resident, spoke to the council about the stray dog problem in her neighborhood.
"I have to wait for my husband to walk with me," she said through a translator. "I came to ask for another animal control officer. We need your assistance with loose dogs that are dangerous."
A public hearing about the proposed budget is planned at Monday's council meeting. The city's final budget is set to be adopted June 17.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.