Tax, interim fire chief on Merced Council's agenda

Merced City Council will hear more on the downtown double tax survey, as well as consider the appointment of an interim fire chief and a burglary alarm ordinance during meetings today.

The council received the Alliance for Community Research and Development results last month of a downtown survey, which found 56 percent of business owners approve of the double tax with some modifications. Thirty percent would leave it as it is, and 14 percent would ax the whole thing.

Sixty of the roughly 540 businesses in the downtown took the survey.

Merced’s downtown is the area bounded by G and V streets, the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the alley north of 19th Street. The 544 businesses in that area pay double taxes on their business licenses, and the money is pooled into a downtown fund.

Since 1970, the double tax has been designated to improve downtown through capital improvements, administration, promotions and other uses as approved by the City Council.

One business owner at last month’s meeting said the survey was not specific and not representative of how owners feel about the tax. Many of them want to be involved in where the money goes, he said.

Time for comment ran out during the January study session, so the council continued that portion to today’s session. A copy of the full report is available at www.cityofmerced.org.

On the agenda for the council’s regular meeting is the appointment of Michael Wilkinson, a retired Oakdale fire chief, as interim chief of Merced City Fire.

According to the resolution, Wilkinson would serve no more than 960 hours beginning Feb. 10. He would be paid $66 an hour, which is at the high end of the salary range, according to city records. If approved by the council, Wilkinson would replace Mike McLaughlin, whose last day was Sunday. He made $137,298 per year, which is also at the high end of the salary range.

City Manager John Bramble said he hopes to recruit a permanent chief in four or five months. He said Wilkinson must be approved by the City Council because he is a retiree under California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

After serving as chief in Oakdale from 2000 to 2007, Wilkinson has been deputy fire warden for the Stanislaus County Fire Wardens Office and an emergency services consultant for UC Berkeley, among other posts.

McLaughlin left Merced to take a position with the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department in Elk Grove.

Also Monday, in an effort to curb false burglar alarms, the council will decide whether to charge anyone whose burglar alarm becomes a nuisance.

According to city records from last year, Merced police responded to 5,448 alarm calls, of which 5,328, or 98 percent, were false. .

The ordinance would require property owners to get a permit for their alarm and pay a $50 fee. False alarm service fees would kick in after two false alarms. The fines for permitted alarms would be between $50 and $250, depending on the number of repeated occurrences.

The fees for nonpermitted alarms would be higher and lower for public schools and government agencies.

The double tax will be covered during a study session at 5:30 p.m. in the council chamber, 678 W. 18th St. City Council meetings are streamed live on the Internet; a link is available at www.cityofmerced.org. Comcast’s Government Channel 96 will broadcast the meeting live.

The study session will be followed by a regular council meeting at 7 p.m.