Merced County is standing in the way of the city of Merced developing the “Bellevue Corridor,” a $420 million series of developments that could bring construction jobs and full-time, good-paying jobs to our community.
Plans call for 1,000 apartments, research and development campuses and retail centers, but only if we reach a deal with the county on tax revenue sharing.
I have been trying to reach such a revenue-sharing agreement with county officials, but they have refused to respond to our last two proposals. Both proposals meet or exceed what they have been asking for; both meet the 50-50 split the county seeks, and both meet or exceed the dollar amounts they want in their pocket. We just want an agreement on how to split the property and other taxes when land is annexed into the city.
It’s pretty simple: we need some tax revenue to pay for the police, fire, recreation and other services we will provide and the county needs some to pay for the courts, jails and mental health and other services it will provide.
The county also has not responded to the Merced City Council’s request for mediation. The only thing we heard was what we read in Wednesday’s Merced Sun-Star.
I handed Hub Walsh, chairman of the board of supervisors, a letter on May 6 requesting a meeting to discuss mediation and I still have not received a response. At their May 24 board meeting, the county did not agendize mediation, so they could not vote on having a meeting to discuss it.
County executive officer Jim Brown and the board did have a discussion Tuesday, but that was all that took place – more talk.
The county CEO likes to give presentations on timelines in regard to proposals given to each city. The board of supervisors expressed an interest in crushing any rumors that the county has not been responsive in reaching a deal. But the city of Merced has been in talks for 10 years and still no agreement has been signed.
Why is it we learn that the county is open to pursuing alternatives to mediation by reading it in the newspaper rather than hearing it in a phone call from the CEO?
At the May 24 meeting, chairman Hub Walsh said we need “to come back to the table and have some discussion.” Again, the city didn’t get a call or email, but read about this invitation in the Sun-Star. It appears the county wants to negotiate through the newspaper.
Since the county CEO and the board chairman both say they want to negotiate, not mediate, we say: Great!
First, we have always been willing to meet with the county to discuss a revenue-sharing agreement. We went to mediation because there were no negotiations.
Second, given the county’s willingness to publicly state its eagerness to “continue to work on getting the deals,” as Hub Walsh said, we invite the county to a revenue-sharing meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, at the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce conference room, 1640 N Street.
We suggested neutral grounds just so no one feels awkward about the meeting and we can start fresh. Plus, county counsel should be back in the office by that date.
The date might seem rushed, but economic development in an impoverished community like Merced County cannot wait. We cannot have developers go to Turlock or Chowchilla or Patterson because they can’t annex land in Merced.
The only reason the county showed a willingness to negotiate revenue sharing is because of public pressure put on them by city staff and council. Our fear is the county will stop making any progress if the spotlight is turned off.
We will keep the spotlight shining bright on this stalemate. If the county is serious about having alternative discussions aside from mediation, then meet with us Tuesday.
The meeting is important to city residents who need good jobs and to the youth of Merced who want good jobs in the future. It is important to the Class of 2016 graduating from high schools, Merced College and UC Merced. They need jobs – good jobs, the kinds of jobs that result from a revenue-sharing agreement.
Without that agreement those graduates will be leaving Merced for places where they can find jobs, or they will become a statistic – either an unemployment statistic or a gang statistic.
It’s your call, Merced County.
Steve Carrigan is the city of Merced city manager.