City of Merced OKs $191.9M budget, youth get some funding

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 21, 2013 

— The Merced City Council adopted the city's $191.9 million budget Monday — a budget they said was balanced "on the back of employees."

The budget passed with a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Noah Lor voting against it. He expressed opposition against a one-time expenditure of $70,000 for upcoming labor negotiations.

It includes about $32 million in general fund revenue, a 4 percent increase from fiscal year 2012-2013, with about $15.4 million going to police and about $8 million is going to fire protection services.

Council members applauded the budget for being balanced without calling for layoffs. In recent years, city employee ranks were reduced by 25 percent — about 129 positions, City Manager John Bramble said.

The budget forecasts a 6 percent increase in sales tax revenue, according to Bramble. Each percentage increase brings in about $81,000 to the general fund, he said.

The city's budget calls for about $1.49 million in one-time expenditures, including $63,843 for software updates and $400,000 to purchase a pumper truck for the Fire Department.

It was the $25,000 allocated to establish a youth council that caused a stir during Monday's meeting.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo proposed taking $15,000 from the $25,000 and using it for five animal control sweeps. This would address ongoing concerns from residents about the city's stray animal problem, he said.

While Pedrozo voiced support for youth services, he said he's concerned that there's no solid plan for how the money will be used.

Without measurable objectives, he said, "we're setting ourselves up for failure."

"I'm concerned setting aside $25,000 for something we haven't discussed," he said. "I believe it is premature to set aside any amount of money before we can do a realistic assessment of the goals and objectives of this group."

Michelle Xiong, youth coordinator with Building Healthy Communities, said investing in the city's youth benefits the entire community. "It seems like we keep looking for ways to take away this $25,000 from the youth council," she said.

Councilman Mike Murphy said adding money to one program means a painful cut in another area.

"We're trying hard. No one up here doesn't want to spend more money," he said. "The question I've asked everyone, what do we give up? How many positions in police and fire will you give up to get what you want?"

Four budget review sessions were previously held, with youth group advocates asking the city to allocate 3 percent of general fund spending to youth services.

However, the adoption of the budget Monday, including the $25,000 for a youth council, was considered a success, said Crissy Gallardo, community activist with The Merced Organizing Project.

"Any investment in youth is an investment in public safety," Gallardo said. "Our youth need programs now and real alternatives to gang affiliations."

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

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