Community

Merced County adopts $624.5M budget, adds eight positions

akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

The Merced County Board of Supervisors adopted a $624.5 million budget this week with plans to add several positions and take care of some deferred maintenance.

The unanimous vote approved the 2018-19 budget that is less than 1 percent smaller than a year ago and has a general fund of $483.1 million.

The county proposed a budget during the summer but held off its adoption until the state’s budget became more clear, according to Merced County CEO Jim Brown. The board approved it on Tuesday.

Brown noted the economy has been rebounding for many years, but economists predict a looming downturn.

“Therefore we need to find that balance of continuing to move forward addressing specific issues that are important to (the supervisors) while also preparing for that potential flattening or downturn we may see in the near future,” he said.

At 2,212 employees, the county plans a net gain of eight new positions, according to county staffers, but remains 120 employees smaller than the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The budget squirrels away another $1 million to bring the reserves to $31.1 million, which matches the pre-Recession reserves of 2008-09, staffers said.

Public safety and court-related services make 54 percent of the budget, or about $73.2 million, according to staffers.

The budget also earmarked a one-time expenditure of $1.5 million aimed specifically at deferred maintenance at veterans halls and other public spaces, staffers said. A number of veterans advocates were at the meeting pushing for the extra cash for buildings used for community functions.

The county annually budgets $20,000 for that kind of upkeep. The one-time dollars came from savings the county saw from its solar array near John Latoracca Correctional Facility, according to staffers.

Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said state and federal leaders should provide avenues to fund the upkeep of such buildings. “We all believe in veterans. We all believe in what they’ve done for our country,” O’Banion said. “But, you know what? It takes money.”

The county’s 21 buildings generate some of their own revenue by being rented out, and some sell alcohol, according to staffers.

Health and human services make up about 4 percent ($5.4 million) of the county budget. Those services also pull down state funding of their own.

Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza said he gets “slammed” by constituents who say the county is not doing enough to fix aging roads. He said he stands by the budget.

“It’s not perfect. Not everybody is happy,” he said. “Some people are happy, but we’re trying to do what’s best for Merced County.”

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