With funding for youth services being a major point of discussion in every city budget session this year, Merced Mayor Stan Thurston on Wednesday advised youth advocates to start a grass-roots effort to get those dollars.
Thurston pitched the idea to advocates during a budget session, asking them to put forth the effort to get an 1/8-cent sales tax measure in front of voters. He said that if passed, it would create a sustainable money source for youth programs in town.
But he stressed it would work only with a grass-roots effort involving young people.
“I’m asking that you turn your effort back to the community,” he said, speaking to advocates gathered at City Hall.
Advocates have been calling for more robust offerings for young people, but the city is running on a tight budget. Thurston pointed to Fresno, which passed a measure about a decade ago to fund its zoo.
With only about 60 days to get 2,500 signatures to put such a meaure on Merced’s November ballot, Thurston proposed that advocates begin the effort for the next election cycle. He estimated the increase would collect about $1.5 million a year in Merced and could pay for programs for youths, the arts and seniors as well as Applegate Park Zoo.
Departments throughout the city have seen cuts since the economy slumped, and Merced is expected to be on a slow path back to where it was before the Great Recession.
Thurston said room for funding more youth programs seems to be years out. “The five-year forecast has us treading too much water,” he said.
The council met the idea with mixed reviews during the study session.
Councilman Tony Dossetti said he would throw his support behind the idea, saying it would gain traction and give young people good practice. “It gives them hands-on experience in dealing with local government.”
Councilman Mike Murphy said the city should work with what it has, and continue to study where it might find extra cash in the proposed budget.
“I don’t think we need to go down the path of a tax increase,” he said.
The city’s proposed budget is $194 million, an increase of about 1.5 percent from last year. It has $40.7 million in discretionary money from the general fund and Measure C dollars.
Sam Rangel, the creator of Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization, or MOJO, was at the study session.
He said a measure might be a good idea, but it doesn’t solve problems in the short term.
“When you have a health condition, you want treatment now,” he said.
His nonprofit gives at-risk youths ages 15 to 24 the opportunity to work odd jobs for pay, teaching them the value of hard work and giving them something to do after school.
Advocates say services that keep young people busy and give them job skills will pay off by decreasing crime and improving opportunities for them.