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Manteca city taxes, service levels & reality

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POSTED April 1, 2014 12:58 a.m.

“Taxes” is not a four-letter word.

However, if you are going to pursue them they’d better be reasonable and necessary.

Manteca, like virtually every other city in this country, is behind the eight ball even though we are rebounding from the near death throes of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  It’s a combination of things. Ongoing pension and benefit costs are still lurking around the corner as the Budget Bogeyman. The current council may not have promised the store but the obligation that isn’t going away still has a very strong potential of turning into a massive fiscal sinkhole. There are also simply too many needs and wishes competing for too few dollars. That was the case before the recession. Now that things are getting better not only do the pre-recession needs and wishes still exist but there is a tendency to want to get municipal staffing in all departments returned to pre-recession levels.

If the city’s proverbial eyes were bigger than their stomach before they certainly are significantly larger now as opposed to their ability to digest such a gigantic plate load of potential financial obligations.

What the city needs to do is have a reality check session now that they have had a goal-setting session.

One of two things needs to happen. They either need to lower their expectations, including levels of service that they set as a desirable target, or find a way to increase city revenue.

Such an exercise is not for the faint-hearted. On one hand, you have those who want everything and expect the city to deliver and they don’t want to pay for it. On the other, you have legitimate needs and collective community desires that aren’t going away either.

There are a couple of “facts” that everyone should keep in mind:

• The city has survived the worst of the recession with 100 less employees. And while all parks weren’t mowed as regularly as before 2008 or an officer may no longer respond in 30 minutes or less for a non-emergency call, has the service we’ve received for the available money been all that bad?

• A lean and efficient workforce should be rewarded for keeping city costs down significantly. In other words, those who have gone on approaching six years without a pay raise deserve reasonable pay raises. They are the ones that kept the city afloat and delivering services. They are a proven valuable asset and should be treated as such.

• Yes, Manteca has “more work” with the addition of 1,500 new homes over the last five years and the people that inhabit them who require municipal services. It is true no other nearby city expanded its workload as much during the recession. At the same time, 2014 is not 2006. If you doubt that find a private sector concern that’s doing business and employee staffing the same way they were in 2006 even when they have greater workloads.

• The city, when they built the Union Road fire station roughly 10 years ago, showed that growth fees are woefully inadequate in terms of what they can collect especially when they are either kept artificially low for years or not collected at all for a long period of time. For example, the 1,500 housing units of the last five years were all built after the city identified a need for a freeway interchange mitigation fee but has done nothing to implement it apparently frozen into inaction by repeated bludgeoning by the Builders Industry Association of the Greater Valley.

At the same time let’s toss in an “assumption” should city leaders ultimately decide the Great Wolf resort is indeed a good idea. Take the “net” revenue as projected to the city for the first five or so years at $1.4 million. Assume 70 percent of that goes to public safety – which is a tad more than the current general fund contribution. – That would generate $980,000 for police and fire. That’s roughly the cost of paying, outfitting, insuring via workmen’s comp and benefits for just under nine police officers/firefighters.

Rising revenues from existing sales and property tax sources more than likely will need to cover the tab for seven existing police officers and firefighters that are currently covered by the public safety endowment fund. The fund will be depleted in five years.

That means Great Wolf, if it materializes and produces revenue according to conservative projections, will get city staffing back to pre-recession levels sometime in 2020. That’s when the resort would have been up and running  for a year. It also means the city at the current growth rate would have added at least 6,000 or so additional residents.

So how is the city going to pay for a jump in public safety staffing above its current levels based on officers and firefighters per 1,000 residents? Better yet, how will the city cover the entire cost of future fire stations and fire engines as well as a police station?

Unless the city council gets realistic and establishes lower levels of service as a reasonable goal for the city, they need to explore all options.

One of the best out there is a community facilities district specifically placed on new retail/business park development. There are CFDs in place currently in Manteca to help pay part of the tab of building new schools. At the very least a public safety component of a municipal CFD can go toward helping cover the bill for buildings and equipment.

If the council truly is repulsed by “double taxation” or the idea of imposing new taxes they need to show they are serious by downsizing their eyes to match the community’s collective ability to stomach the financial cost of services such as police and fire.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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