Merced County Times Newspaper
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City approves final budget on positive housing note

Merced leaders approved a new $384.6 million fiscal budget for ongoing city government operations in a split 4-3 vote on Tuesday night.

The decision included an added $500,000 to be set aside for an undefined affordable housing funding plan or program that appeared to be a smaller concession to demands from local activists and supporters who have spent the past year clamoring for the city to establish a $5 million “affordable housing trust fund.”

Councilman Kevin Blake voted NO, saying he was opposed to including any additional funds for affordable housing that come directly out of the city’s General Fund monies. Council members Fernando Echevarria and Jesse Ornelas also voted NO; however, they have both voiced support for more significant funding with regard to affordable housing.

Mayor Matthew Serratto remained upbeat about the budget passing and accented his views by noting all the progress the city has made in recent months with regard to facilitating affordable housing projects.

“We’ve been extremely active in securing state and federal funding for housing —  Tens and tens of millions of dollars,” Mayor Serratto pointed out. “To say this council hasn’t done anything on housing, I think the facts really contradict that.”

Serratto also pointed out: “Just today alone, there are 632 affordable units on this agenda tonight.”

The mayor was referring to a developer’s plans for a new affordable housing complex at the southwest corner of Loughborough Drive and Meadows Avenue. The nearly 7-acre site would also include a medical clinic, according to the latest designs.

The Council unanimously approved zoning changes for the project on Tuesday night.

Mayor Serratto also mentioned the city’s decision to allocate $6.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act federal funding for affordable housing, along with a grant received for $2.5 million to fund a first-time homebuyer down payment assistance and owner-occupied rehabilitation program.

The city has also received $1.3 million to support a 67-unit affordable housing project, $24 million for a 95-unit motel conversion project, and $4.2 million for a 21-unit permanent supportive container housing project.

The $384.6 million fiscal budget features a General Fund of $53.5 million, which covers essential municipal services such as water, garbage, police and fire — and that’s up from last year’s $320.1 million budget and $51.3 million General Fund.

Other additions to the earlier proposed budget include: $100,000 for community art projects, $50,000 for community groups, $26,000 for a bicycle race, $100,000 for building repairs at Stephen Leonard Park in south Merced, and $33,612 for a zookeeper position at the zoo, among other funding. The budget also adds two police dispatch positions.


In Other News …

A split City Council also voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to explore the idea of creating a biennial budget — the practice of preparing and adopting budgets for a two-year period. The advantages of such a strategy  include reducing the amount of time spent on budgeting and encouraging city departments staff members to think strategically. The disadvantages include more time spent on budget planning in Year One, and the difficulty of forecasting budget needs into the future.

Council members Ornelas, Echevarria and Perez voted NO.


The Merced City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to add an ordinance measure on the November General Election ballot that would renew Measure C — a half-cent sales tax that helps fund vital public safety jobs and transportation projects.

Councilman Jesse Ornelas voted NO.

Voters first approved the measure back in 2006, but it was for 20 years. It will sunset in 2026.

If the new Measure C passes, it would continue on as before but without a sunset clause.

City Manager Stephanie Dietz on Tuesday night detailed results of the latest polling research on voter attitudes regarding city needs and the measure itself. She said the findings contained the best percentages to date for the likelihood of a successful passage of Measure C.

The city has already set aside $80,000 in the budget for costs related to the General Election ballot.

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