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July 22, 2014

Merced City Council says office move too expensive, seeks alternative

A shuffling of offices at Merced City Hall that would cost nearly $50,000 was put on hold this week after the City Council expressed some doubts about its necessity in a year of tough budget talks.

A shuffling of offices at Merced City Hall that would cost nearly $50,000 was put on hold this week after the City Council expressed some doubts about its necessity in a year of tough budget talks.

The council voted unanimously at Monday’s meeting to hold off on the move while city staff explore other, less expensive options.

Mayor Stan Thurston said he could not support spending the money. “It just offends me that governments always have money to do things for themselves and not for the people who actually pay the bills,” he said. “There’s no way I can support $50,000 just to shuffle people around.”

During budget talks in June, the council heard requests from youth advocates looking for more job skills training and recreational programs. The council also discussed adding cash to the Merced Fire Department’s overtime budget to try to eliminate brownouts, a policy that leaves one three-person fire engine company unstaffed for as much as a full shift.

The money for rearranging city offices would pay for additional cubicles and swapping the Support Services Department and Parks and Recreation offices.

City Manager John Bramble said the move is necessary to provide a space with more confidentiality, where employees could meet with support staff and not be seen while asking for counseling or voicing a grievance.

The move also would free up more space for Parks and Recreation staff, he said. “I think we also have the responsibility to provide our employees with the most productive space we can,” he said.

Stan Murdock, the city’s director of Public Works, said changing the brand of cubicle to a less expensive option would mean the parts would not match. He said the request did not go through the regular bidding process because the parts fall under what is called a “sole source project,” when purchases are made to add to existing city equipment.

He said his department does not have the staff to handle the move.

Councilman Mike Murphy also questioned the need for and cost of move. He pointed to the council debating how to spend even smaller amounts of city money at budget talks this year. “I see there is some benefit, but the cost is something I’m struggling with,” he said.

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