With an introduction of the city’s budget out of the way early this month, Merced City Council began peeling back the fiscal layers and diving into the details Monday, discovering that finding money for young people would be no easy task.
Though there is about $1.5 million more in revenue than last year, expenses such as retirement and health insurance have kept pace and even increased.
The City Council has been looking at the first draft of the $194 million 2014-15 budget, which would be an increase of about 1.5 percent from last year. The budget has $40.7 million in discretionary money from the general fund and Measure C dollars.
The general fund pays for police, fire, recreation and other services. The proposed Parks and Recreation budget, which includes youth services, is $1.2 million.
Finding the extra money likely means the council would have to cut from another program or department. That’s particularly tricky since many of the funds are already running low or at a deficit.
Funds such as those for street repair and vehicle replacement have already been slashed after years dealing with a difficult economy. “I think we need to remember that we’re providing the basic level of service,” Councilman Josh Pedrozo said.
The council tossed around a few different ideas while looking for extra cash somewhere in the budget.
Taking some of the $7.4 million in reserve cash and putting it into youth programs was one idea but was not recommended by city staff. The city charter calls for the council to keep at least enough money in the reserve fund to run the city for two months. That would be about $5 million.
“This is a savings account,” Mayor Stan Thurston said. “If we use money from the savings account this year, it won’t be there next year.”
Youth advocates have been closely watching the discussions. They developed a plan the city can use to improve activities and job-skills programs for young people. Advocates say services that keep young people busy and give them job skills will pay off for the city in decreasing crime and increasing opportunities for youths.
Late last month, the Invest in Our Youth coalition asked the council for money to expand or begin three programs.
The proposed $232,200 would cover a six-week program through the Merced County Office of Education. The money would pay for bus passes, uniforms and other program costs, as well as the wages of up to 100 students who would go to work for local businesses.
The proposal also called for an additional $180,600 to be put into the McCombs Youth Center, which the Boys & Girls Clubs of Merced County occupies. The cash would pay for the cost to stay open two hours later during the week and to remain open on weekends.
Finding the money was a priority for Councilman Michael Belluomini, who floated a few ideas, including shaving some cash from the $5.8 million budgeted for materials, supplies and services. “We have a community looking for leadership for change in services in parks and recreation,” he said.
The next budget session is planned for 6 p.m. May 21.