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City surveys being mailed over ‘recovery’ spending plan

Mayor Matthew Serratto speaks to reporters about the launch of Merced’s COVID-19 Community Impact Study and how residents can participate. 
Mayor Matthew Serratto speaks to reporters about the launch of Merced’s COVID-19 Community Impact Study and how residents can participate.

If you’re a Merced resident, you might want to keep an eye out for a survey that should be arriving inside mailboxes in the coming days.

This particular survey is designed to directly help city leaders on their decision-making with regard to a $27 million spending plan over the next four years that’s funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The purpose of these federal dollars is to help communities like Merced respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, address economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.

“It’s important to understand that the City of Merced has a long history of engaging with residents through its budget process,” said City Manager Stephanie Dietz during a press conference to launch the COVID-19 Community Impact Study. “We go to the people in January and February every year and ask them what they would like to see in their budget, and this is yet another extension of that. It’s the City Council honoring their commitment to listening to their community and allocating funds in a way that are most impactful to them.”

Dietz added, “As city manager, I think it’s important for our community members to understand that their voice is important. The City Council is listening to them, and they are giving me direction on how to develop a plan based on that feedback.”

The surveys include a series of questions focused on the ARPA requirements, and they ask residents to rank areas of importance, and/or provide feedback on areas of investment.

Mailers with a print version of the survey will go out to businesses and residents in both English and Spanish. There will also be instructions in Hmong. A separate printed survey in the Hmong language will be hand delivered in target areas. The mailer will include a QR Code that links to an online version of the survey, or recipients can complete the paper survey and return it by mail (postage paid) or in the drop-box at the City of Merced, 678 West 18th Street in Merced. The City will also send survey notifications through text messages. Residents can visit cityofmerced.org to take the survey online.

When asked if the survey was a form of “participatory budgeting” — an effort that is being championed by some activist groups to give individual residents a chance to directly vote on how government money is spent  — Mayor Matthew Serratto said no, it’s not.

“We are elected here to do a job,” Mayor Serratto said, “but it’s our job to do it right, and it’s our job to speak to citizens, engage with them, and find out what their priorities are.”

The city’s spending plan for the ARPA money focuses on the following four eligible categories.

  • Public Health Impacts / Economic Impacts
    “Support public health by funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral health care, and certain public health and safety staff. Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harms to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public health sector.”
  • Premium Pay
    “Provide premium pay for essential workers. Offer additional support to our community members in healthcare, education, childcare, transportation, sanitation, grocery and food production, and public health and safety. These groups have and will continue to bear the greatest health risks because of their critical infrastructure sectors.”
  • Reduction In Revenue
    “Replace lost government revenue to restore projects, services, and programs delayed due to the pandemic.”
  •  Infrastructure Investment
    “Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. Make investments to improve access to clean drinking water, improve and support wastewater and stormwater infrastructure systems, and expand access to broadband internet.”

City leaders also plan to hold a series of public meetings to discuss survey results and to hear residents’ ideas about how to use American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The schedule of public meetings follows:

  • Study Session — Monday, Oct. 4, 6 p.m., City Council Chamber, 2nd Floor, Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th Street.
  • First Public Hearing – Monday, Nov. 1, 6 p.m., City Council Chamber.
  • Second Public Hearing – Monday, Dec. 6, 6 p.m., City Council Chamber.

Citizens are encouraged to review the US Treasury summary of eligible uses before sharing ideas in the survey. To learn more about our program, please visit cityofmerced.org.

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