City budget's balance must be carefully tended

June 7, 2013 

For the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget, which begins July 1, we have been requested to allocate a baseline of 3 percent of the general fund to the Parks and Community Services Department.

The emphasis, of course, is on additional youth services -- all youth. There is no lack of agreement that I can discern on the City Council regarding the importance of such services.

The difficulty lies in finding funds for all of the services we need. However, out of a discretionary budget of $38 million, taking an additional 3 percent would lead to layoffs and drastic cuts in other departments, of which the community at large has determined to be major priorities for our city.

Currently, the Parks and Recreation Department, which controls the youth activities in our community and is funded through the discretionary funds, is budgeted for $693,000.

This is a substantial sum of money as the other services funded through discretionary dollars are mainly public safety (74 percent), economic development, street maintenance and development.

This fund is mainly supported through the sales and use taxes that we all pay when we spend our money in the local community. We have seen increases this year in our sales tax but not the type of increases that we can go out and spend at this time.

A 3 percent baseline allocation for the Parks and Community Services Department represents an increase from the proposed amount of $693,000 to more than $1 million. The additional $280,000 has to come from somewhere.

It needs to be understood that the general fund budget is in very delicate balance. If you add to one area, you must take away from another. While it has been stated that the city will receive reimbursement from Merced County, this is not an ongoing source of funds, nor is it sufficient to meet the 3 percent baseline request in the light of other budget needs that have been identified.

This budget isn't about winning or losing. It's about being responsible and being able to justify the expenditure of our hard earned tax dollars. We on the City Council have requested that the budget maintain sustainability for the next five years, when we can expect and hope that the economic depression that has hit us so hard will be over.

We need to continue to be creative in looking at ways to increase revenues by adding jobs to our economy and looking at other ways to offer services.

Adding jobs means more people in this community will have the ability to spend more, which in turn boosts the general fund through sales tax dollars. When we are at a position where our general fund is healthy again, that is the time to take into consideration new programs. I believe we are close -- just not there yet.

The interest in this year's budget process is encouraging. It is a sign of growth and health in our community, and even though this year your request may not be granted, understand that you have been heard and your concerns taken seriously.

Josh Pedrozo is a lifelong Merced County resident, a public school teacher and a member of the Merced City Council.

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