Merced City Council to meet before big Election Day
The Merced City Council is scheduled to meet on Monday, June 6, at City Hall, starting at 6 p.m., on the eve of the Primary Election.
The election has nothing directly related to current City Council matters; however, leaders are indeed mulling the research and upcoming budget funding of some possible ballot measures for the next election in November.
The extension of Measure C has been talked about for some time now, and leaders are feeling pressure to get something done sooner than later. The local half-cent sales tax approved in 2006 helps fund vital public safety jobs and transportation projects. But the whole thing sunsets in 2026.
In addition, there’s been discussion on the council dais about using a ballot measure — perhaps one connected to a Measure C extension— that would fund an “affordable housing trust fund” specifically for the city. This is a response to demands by local activists and certain community groups who have been clamoring for the city to invest $5 million into a trust fund “to promote the development” of affordable units.
Officials say the city would have to make a decision by July 5 in order to get something on the November ballot.
These matters and housing availability in general took up a lot of the conversation during the last City Council meeting on May 16 when leaders voted to move forward with the City Manager’s $383.4 million proposed 2022-23 fiscal budget as it was presented. They did add one thing: $500,000 (not $5 million) set aside for a yet-to-be-determined affordable housing fund or project.
Nevertheless, the City Manager continues to insist that she and her staff continue to “evaluate options for a regional or local housing trust fund.”
In any case, there are significant amounts of affordable housing funding already built into the proposed budget, or playing a major role in the form of grants coming into the city coffers. The budget includes $7.7 million in funding to support affordable housing projects and related community services. Meanwhile the City Council has allocated $6.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act federal funding for affordable housing. This comes along with multiple housing grants the city has been awarded, including $2.5 million for a first-time homebuyer down payment assistance and owner-occupied rehabilitation program, $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 $383.4 million features a General Fund of $53.2 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.
It’s a balanced budget, but according to Finance Officer Venus Rodriguez, expenses are expected to surpass revenues ever so slightly, due to labor increases, rising costs in maintenance and services and the addition of a recent contract with a legal firm to handle City Attorney duties.
According to the City Manager’s written presentation to the council: “The City of Merced’s economic outlook is strong. Sales Tax and Property Tax receipts are outperforming current year projections, and total General Fund revenues are budgeted to include a projected 8 percent increase based on mid-year revised estimates. Citywide, single-family, and multi-family construction continues to be robust. With the county’s unemployment improving to 8.3 percent, over 11.4 percent in 2021.”
Other priorities in the proposed budget include:
- $50,000 to examine future industrial and technology park areas.
- Facility and equipment requests include $875,000 to purchase one fire engine and $750,000 to replace eleven police vehicles from Measure C.
- Over $3 million in funding is recommended in the proposed budget from Measure V and SB 1 for new street rehabilitation projects and quiet zone enhancements across the city. In addition, the creation of a new Safe Streets Project is recommended, with $1 million from Measure C to replace neighborhood streetlights with brighter LED lights. Additionally, a federal program will provide funding for 13 projects including the transit hub, a traffic signal synchronization program, multi-use path projects on Motel Drive and Childs Ave., and six sidewalk projects throughout the city.
- Beautification – Merced’s urban forest relies on consistent maintenance from the Public Works Department. Continued investment of $350,000 to support tree pruning and replacement is in the proposed budget. Additionally, $150,000 is included to repair the M Street Eucalyptus bike path and $650,000 from Caltrans to install four welcome signs at city entry points.
- Public Art – In addition to the City Council allocation of $100,000, the city will facilitate the selection and installation of seven murals on Caltrans facilities provided by $350,000 in funding from the Clean California grant. In addition, staff will return with a report on the use of graffiti abatement to explore potential future mural sites.
- The addition of six staff positions at various departments.
- $30,000 to fund local projects put forth by nonprofit community groups. The process to select the projects to be funded is ongoing.