Budget talks continue in Merced

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJune 1, 2014 

Merced City Council will again discuss the proposed $194 million budget during the regular meeting Monday.

The budget, which is about 1.5 percent larger than last year’s, has $40.7 million in discretionary money from the general fund and Measure C dollars. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.

At previous meetings, council members have discussed ideas for finding money to put toward youth services. A new request will look at expanding the budget for overtime for firefighters.

Advocates say services that keep young people busy and give them job skills will pay off by decreasing crime and improving opportunities for them. The members of council have said more activities are needed, but they have not agreed on how deep in the city’s pockets they should dig.

At the last study session, City Council voted 4-3 for staff to bring a version of the budget to Monday’s meeting that would skim $220,000 from the $5.8 million budgeted for materials, supplies and services. Councilmen Kevin Blake, Tony Dossetti and Josh Pedrozo voted against the request.

That request has been pushed repeatedly by Councilman Michael Belluomini. If the money can be identified, it would be used for youth services. Whether that would provide an additional parks and recreation employee or more programs is yet to be decided.

Councilman Mike Murphy asked staff to also study what the tradeoffs would be to eliminate firefighter brownouts, when one three-person fire engine company is left unstaffed for a full or partial shift. The city has been using the practice since 2012 because of cutbacks and staffing shortages.

That request passed unanimously.

Both staff reports are supposed to show what the city would have to do without if it were to redirect the money for youth programs or firefighter overtime. The council will have the option to make any of the tradeoffs a permanent part of the budget.

At the same study session, Mayor Stan Thurston asked advocates to start a grass-roots campaign for a sales tax increment that would pay for youth, seniors, arts and other programs. That sort of effort would potentially test whether residents of Merced think an increase in youth services is valuable.

Thurston said that tax increment could provide a sustainable income for those services. The idea was met with mixed reviews.

Years of cutbacks have left many of the city’s departments with little room to find money, city staff has said, and other departments running deficits.

City Council meetings are streamed live on the Internet. A link is at www.cityofmerced.org. Comcast’s Government Channel 96 will broadcast the meeting live. Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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