Merced leaders on Monday will decide whether to spend about $500,000 of Measure C revenue on streets or safety.
City Manager John Bramble has proposed using the money to fund three firefighter and two police officer positions this year to avoid deeper cuts.
"We're using all available revenue to get us through this downturn," he said Friday.
Bramble's long-term plan, if the economy doesn't turn around, is to tap $500,000 of Measure C reserve money for two more years. It cuts all Measure C funding road repair and reduces the amount of money set aside for major transportation projects. The city will cover street repair with $900,000 from Proposition 1B.
"A quality streets system is an important part of a city's viability and attractive- ness. However, at this time the safety of the residents is our number one priority," Bramble wrote in a budget memo.
The proposal is contained in the 2009-2010 budget, which will be up for approval during the 7 p.m. meeting.
The Measure C Oversight Committee, short one member, tied twice on giving a recommendation to the council. While it has no power on spending the revenue, the citizen committee is charged with offering suggestions to the council.
The revenue generated from the half-cent sales tax approved in 2005 already supports 19 police officers and 13 firefighters.
The revenue comes from taxable sales, so it's declined right along with other city income sources. Merced took in $7 million in 2006-2007. The tax is expected to generate $4.7 million this year.
In past years, some money was spent on improving the area's roads.
Half of the committee members felt that the city needed to maintain public safety services at the expense of roads for the time being. Others disagreed.
"You can only go so long without maintenance," committee member Dale Van Den Boom said. "(The roads) will just get worse. If we keep putting it off, it will never change."
The City Council has maintained that public safety is among its top priorities, so it's unlikely a proposal that would lay off more police and fire employees would fly. The city's already cutting 14 positions, five of which are police officers.
Councilman Bill Spriggs said under normal circumstances he'd be willing to keep the money budgeted for roads. "These are not normal times. We've been working real hard to keep our police and fire on the streets," he said. "I think it needs to go to public safety."
Michelle Gray, whose husband, Officer Stephan Gray, was shot and killed five years ago in the line of duty, plans to speak to the council to make sure more jobs aren't in jeopardy.
"It's mind-boggling that (some committee members) can choose roads over a human," she said.
Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.