MERCED — Youth advocates have been a strong presence at the Merced City Council meetings and budget workshops the last several months with one message to elected officials "make youth a priority."
They've asked council members to allocate 3 percent of general fund spending, or $976,597, to youth services. That request wasn't fulfilled with the adoption of city's 2013-14 budget Monday night, but their efforts didn't go unnoticed.
City Council members approved $25,000 to form a youth council, a move some youth advocates called a victory.
"Putting together a youth council is a step in the right direction and helps us get more input from youth," said Samuel Rangel, who co-founded two nonprofit youth organizations. "Any win is a win, even if it's a small win. The hard work paid off."
The City Council adopted the city's $191.9 million budget in a 6-1 vote Monday a budget they said was balanced after all city employees accepted $1.2 million to $1.4 million in concessions to avoid further layoffs.
Councilman Josh Pedrozo voiced a desire to help the city's youth, but said he's hesitant to fund programs without clear direction.
"My concern with the $25,000 for the youth council was the fact that we haven't had any discussion about what we're actually paying for," Pedrozo said. "We're starting a program and there's no guarantee it will be sustainable. What is the end goal? What is the youth council actually going to do?"
Councilman Tony Dossetti agreed with creating a sustainable youth program, pointing to a former Merced youth council that dissolved in the '90s. Members stopped participating in the council after they met a goal of opening a skate park, he said.
"I think giving youth a voice is very important, but by the same token, I don't want this to be a one-time deal," Dossetti said. "I don't think it's fair to say that this council doesn't consider youth as a priority, because we really do."
Michelle Xiong, youth coordinator with Building Healthy Communities, said the youth groups are willing to work with elected officials to form the council.
Though many of the details about how the youth council will operate are unclear, Xiong said youth advocates are looking at "best practices" from other councils in the region.
"I think it's a great start, and I hope that they follow through," Xiong said. "We couldn't get the 3 percent, but our presence, voices and testimonials made a difference. We're making some noise and we're hoping we can change the way they see this community."
Xiong said the process empowered young people to use their voice.
"If we weren't there at all, youth would not have even been a topic of discussion," she said. "We'll keep doing what we need to do for young people. It shows that they hear us."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.