Some Merced County supervisors spend almost all of their annual $40,000 discretionary fund on projects in their district while others let the money accumulate, the most current report shows.
Every year, $40,000 is allotted to each supervisor to use at their discretion, usually for community projects and nonprofit organizations. The unused balance is rolled over at the end of each fiscal year.
District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo had the least amount of money remaining in his account, a balance of $3,038.83 as of June 17, according to the report.
District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh had the most money, with a balance of $210,978.56.
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The five districts had a combined balance of $435,330.78, the report showed. District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis had $78,562.74, District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey had $7,933.50 and District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion had $134,817.15.
Despite public criticism that the money can be used to offset the county’s projected $2.3 million deficit, some supervisors have defended the discretionary funds, saying the money allows them to support organizations that may otherwise not receive assistance.
Pedrozo used $62,296.30 from June 2013 to fund a variety of projects, including youth sports, street improvements in Planada and janitorial services in Le Grand.
Pedrozo said he doesn’t believe in letting the $40,000 roll over each year and intends to use his appropriation to fund as many worthy projects as he can.
“The investments that I make are for the communities that I represent,” he said. “My district has needs, and if I didn’t assist with the discretionary dollars, there are some things that they wouldn’t be able to do.”
Pedrozo also paid $15,452.21 for the salary of his assistant, the report shows.
After the assistant’s release in February, the remaining amount earmarked for her salary was put back into his district funds, according to Assistant County Executive Officer Scott De Moss.
Pedrozo said he hasn’t decided if he’ll use his district funds to hire another assistant. If he does, Pedrozo wouldn’t be alone. Walsh, Davis and Kelsey each set aside money for assistant salaries. District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion did not.
Walsh held $26,080 for an assistant; Davis reserved $31,207 and Kelsey held $6,967. Davis and Kelsey are the only supervisors who currently use an assistant.
Walsh said the large amount of money in his district funds was there before he was elected to office. “There was a substantial amount already there,” he said. “It’s not like I’m holding on to it for something.”
Walsh said he receives about one funding request per month. Unlike the unincorporated communities represented by the other supervisors, Walsh’s district encompasses part of the city of Merced, and he believes some of the services people seek might be covered by the city.
Instead of funding ongoing operational costs for nonprofits, Walsh said he believes in funding equipment purchases, such as $16,000 for Merced Theater Foundation’s sound equipment and $5,900 for a washer and dryer for the Merced County Rescue Mission.
Walsh said he doesn’t support the “spend it or lose it” approach, believing the unused money should be accumulated each year. “It is a lot of money and I try to be prudent about the use of it,” he said.
Since June 2013, Walsh’s total expenditures were $60,809.92; Davis spent $35,641.76; Kelsey, $86,142.77; and O’Banion, who topped the list, $108,041.23. Those amounts include “obligations,” which are items the board has approved, and money reserved for assistant salaries.
O’Banion’s district had the largest expenditure: $42,000 for a new air conditioning system for the Dos Palos Memorial Rural Health Clinic.
The use of the discretionary funds began in the late 1990s with $100,000 per supervisor. It later was decreased to $70,000 because of budget constraints. It was reduced again to the current amount, Merced County Chief Executive Officer Jim Brown said in a previous interview.
Since board members work with the community, funding requests go directly through them.
The request goes to the county counsel and then appears on the meeting agenda with the supervisors casting a vote on whether to approve the expenditure. If an expenditure doesn’t appear to serve a public purpose, it won’t be voted on, county officials said.