MERCED -- A Merced County supervisor's request to hand a quarter-million dollars in county money to the Merced Theatre restoration project has created a rare divide among the board's five members.
It also raised the question of whether large sums of taxpayer money are being used for parochial purposes or for spending that would benefit most Mercedians.
The controversy started at last week's Board of Supervisors meeting, where Supervisor Kathleen Crookham presented a request to spend $250,000 in "special project funds" on the restoration of Merced's most recognizable landmark.
Each year, each supervisor gets a pot of taxpayer money. This year it's $100,000 each, called "special project funding." Each supervisor is allowed to allocate the money to community projects in his or her district, as long as the majority of the board approves the expenditure.
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Typically, supervisors split their money in smaller amounts among several projects, such as $1,000 to help reroof a community center or $5,000 to clean up graffiti.
But at a quarter-million dollars, Crookham's request raised objections. She's been saving her special project money for a few years, intending to give a sizable sum to the theater, she said.
But it appears that plan is dead.
Three of the five supervisors, John Pedrozo, Mike Nelson and Deidre Kelsey, said they wouldn't support the expenditure. Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said he would. The board voted to delay a decision until its Tuesday meeting.
Supervisors opposed to the expenditure say it's not in keeping with the intent of special project funds. They say it's too much to spend on one building, especially one that doesn't belong to the county and especially when the county could be facing a sizable budget shortfall.
"When I first saw this, I thought it was a typo," Pedrozo said.
Crookham said she doesn't understand the controversy.
"I guess I don't see what's so wrong with saving your money," she said in an interview Thursday. "If other board members want to spread their money around more, that's fine, but I never understood that to be the rule."
She argued that spending her special project funds on the theater makes sense because it means the money will go further. The theater restoration project won a $1.9 million matching grant from the state last year, but time to meet that $1.9 million is running out.
Even though times are tough, she said, the theater is a worthy cause. Crookham added that the theater's restoration would benefit the entire county.
O'Banion sided with Crookham. He said she shouldn't be punished for saving her funds for one project.