Merced County supervisors' discretionary money survives budget cuts

Services throughout the county are facing cutbacks and layoffs in an effort to help balance the 2011-12 fiscal year budget.

But discretionary funds for those who vote on the financial plan didn't take a hit this round.

Each supervisor's special district funds were kept in place at $40,000 a year, said County Executive Officer Larry Combs.

Every year, supervisors get an allotment of taxpayer money to spend on community projects in their districts, as long as the majority of the board approves the expenditure.

The funds used to total $100,000 a year for every supervisor, but were reduced in 2009 and cut back again in 2010, which the board approved, Combs said.

The funds go into accounts, and unused balances can be rolled over.

As of June 8, the board has $663,340 in special district funds, with $159,928 committed to projects, according to Jim Brown, assistant county executive officer.

Supervisor Hub Walsh has the most special district funds at $294,373, with $100,385 already committed to projects.

Walsh said most of the money available to him came from his predecessor, and while the funding has been cut back in recent years, special district funds serve an important purpose. "I have committed mine to what I call 'bricks and mortar' kind of projects," he said. "Things like roofing and carpeting for the libraries."

One project Walsh has committed to is the nonoperational drinking fountain at the veterans memorial in Courthouse Park.

Using special district funds to help balance the budget would be a one-time fix and wouldn't go very far, Walsh said. "If it's needed, I'm not opposed to having some discussions about that," he added.

However, Combs said that the funding sometimes goes to county departments in need of help. The decisions are in the hands of the supervisors. "Over the past couple of years, they have allocated money to departments to do things that weren't in the budget for the department," Combs said.

Board of Supervisors Chairman John Pedrozo, who has $89,529 in discretionary funds, with $16,532 committed, said each supervisor manages the funds in his own way.

"For Supervisor Deidre Kelsey and me, because of the makeup of our districts, we utilize the discretionary dollars for unincorporated communities," Pedrozo said. "We use it for what it's required to be used for."

The funds are for less- fortunate organizations supervisors represent in their districts, he said. He also doesn't like to carry too much money over from year-to-year.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.