Merced seeks input on downtown tax, water rules

04/20/2014 7:03 PM

04/20/2014 11:08 PM

Tonight’s study session and meeting of the Merced City Council could see an extra helping of public input as time will be reserved for dialogue with community members including business owners.

The council will meet for a downtown tax study session at 5:30 p.m. before the regular 7 p.m. meeting. Both sessions will take place at the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.

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.

Many business owners have been clamoring for a bigger say over the $65,000 to $80,000 generated yearly by the tax. Currently, the money pays for the Downtown Christmas Parade, Cap and Town festivities, sidewalk steam cleaning, Art Hop sponsorships, banners, newsletters, advertising, promotions and staff administration.

During the regular meeting, a public hearing is planned to discuss tightening city water restrictions.

Under the proposed ordinance, car wash fundraisers could take place only at a facility with the ability to capture the water used to wash vehicles. Groups looking to raise funds would need to partner with a car wash company or gas station with a car wash. Car wash fundraisers that take place in a parking lot would no longer be allowed.

Watering would be reduced from three days a week to two, and the window when lawn sprinkling is allowed would shrink by four hours.

During the closed session, the council will confer with the city attorney to discuss actions related to a warning letter from the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund earlier this month. The letter warned the city that it faces potential litigation without a “satisfactory response” by May 1.

The civil rights group blames what it sees as a lack of Latino representation in government on Merced’s at-large election system, in which council members are elected to represent the entire city as opposed to individual districts. The group says a change to district elections would bring greater fairness in representation.

City Council meetings are streamed live on the Internet. A link is available at Comcast’s Government Channel 96 will broadcast the meeting live.

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