Merced City Council OKs medical offices in budget session

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 9, 2013 

— The Merced City Council held a public hearing on its $191.9 million budget during a meeting this week.

During the meeting, the council approved a zoning change to build a highly contested medical office in a residential neighborhood.

The city's proposed budget includes $32,589,752 in general funds, with approximately three-fourths of that money going to police and fire services, according to city spokesman Mike Conway.

Four budget review sessions have been held, with youth group advocates asking the city to allocate 3 percent of general fund spending, or about $283,000, to youth services. The final budget is scheduled for adoption June 17.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said discussions about youth services will be ongoing, because it's more than just a budget issue. While he voiced support for the services, he said the budget is stretched thin.

"Unfortunately, we still don't have sufficient funds to address the youth program needs in the city," Thurston said. "We're still in somewhat of a bare-bones budget. We were able to balance it without using reserves, but it didn't leave much."

The city's proposed budget includes $1,498,843 in one-time spending, with $25,000 allocated to establish a youth council, Thurston said.

Other one-time expenditures include $400,000 to purchase a firetruck, about $64,000 for software updates and $70,000 for upcoming labor negotiations.

The council approved an ordinance Monday that allows a zoning change on the south side of Mercy Avenue to build a medical complex.

The item was approved in a 4-3 vote, with Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling, Councilman Bill Blake and Mayor Stan Thurston voting against it.

"I just felt that there is too much foot traffic, and the school district and neighbors were against the project," Blake said. "My take was that I wanted to support the residents out there."

"It might bring some revenue and construction jobs, but the downside is it will create an unsafe environment for the kids walking home and leaves other Merced office spaces empty," Blake said.

The zoning change will allow V&S Real Estate Investments LLC to move forward with its four-building office complex south of Mercy Medical Center.

The council rejected a similar proposal a little more than a year ago in the face of strong opposition by neighborhood residents.

In another issue that has generated strong public reaction, residents have asked the city to allocate more resources for animal control services. They say they're afraid to walk in some neighborhoods because of the number of stray dogs.

The city employs one full time animal control officer, and residents have asked for more resources.

Though no decisions have been made on the city's animal control, Thurston said staff is developing a plan to address those concerns.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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