After years of shortfalls and budget cuts, area officials find themselves with enough tax revenue to increase budgets, and both the city of Merced and Merced County have made public safety a priority.
The city and the county are each projecting revenue increases of more than 3 percent in the coming fiscal year, and each also will increase the dollars going to law enforcement and fire services.
The City Council, during its meeting Monday, unanimously adopted its $203 million budget, an increase of almost 5 percent from last year. Councilman Noah Lor was absent.
For the first time since 2008, the city budgeted raises and plans to hire new employees. “We’ve seen a change in the local economy,” City Manager John Bramble said.
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Merced will add three police officers and two firefighters, as well as a recreation coordinator, zookeeper and water engineer. The city’s budget does not use any general fund reserves.
The county reached an all-time high for homicides last year with 32, leading to an outcry for more officers. Fifteen of those killings were within Merced’s city limit.
Officials have said the city police force has had difficulty trying to fill up all of the department’s open spots.
The city’s addition of three officer positions brings the number of funded positions to 91 officers. The peak in Merced was 111 in 2007.
The council did not stop at officers. It also added dollars to the department’s budget to pay for cameras that read license plates, a dispatcher and other requests from the police.
The addition of firefighters was an attempt to end brownouts, when the department sometimes leaves one engine at the 16th Street station without a crew rather than spend overtime dollars to staff it. With 19 firefighters per shift now, officials said, the department can cut down as much as possible on using brownouts.
Councilman Mike Murphy and Councilman Michael Belluomini proposed budgeting to hire an assistant city manager and a director of the Parks and Recreation Department, respectively. Those requests will be reviewed at a later date.
$505.8 millionMerced County’s budget for fiscal year 2015-16
The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its $505.8 million budget Tuesday. The spending plan is $16.6 million larger than last year’s budget, amounting to more than a 3 percent increase.
For the second year in a row, the public safety budget increased. At $57.6 million, it is almost 4 percent larger than last year’s plan, which means it receives the largest share of discretionary funding.
The board approved the hiring of four sheriff’s deputies in February, as well as some administrative staff. This approved budget will add a lieutenant, as well as few positions that are not sworn officers. The county’s spending plan budgets for 97 deputies, the same number as last year.