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100 workers using interest free city loans for computers

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POSTED January 6, 2010 3:03 a.m.
Almost 40 percent of Manteca’s 260 municipal workers take advantage of the city’s interest-free loan program to secure computers for their personal use.

The program was started in 1988 in a bid to encourage workers to acquire computers for home use so they could become more proficient using the technology. The theory was the more they used computers, the more they’d be efficient at work.

Launched on Nov. 12, 1988 under the leadership of then City Manager Dave Jinkens, the council at the time set aside $50,000 as a revolving fund. The loans were made interest-free to city employees. The loans must be repaid within three years. Loans are set at a maximum of $3,000 with a $50 a month payroll deduction until the amount borrowed is paid back. Once money is returned, the same money is used to fund other computer loan requests.

There are currently outstanding computer loans to 100 municipal employees.

Even with $100,000 available in perpetuity, there is always a waiting list for the interest-free computer loans that require the balance left to be deducted from an employee’s last check if they leave city service before the balance is paid.

The computer program was modified on April 6, 1992 to include part-time employees. It essentially had the effect of allowing council members who at the time were receiving $400 a month stipends for serving to participate in the interest-free computer loan program.

Shortly after arriving in Manteca, current City Manager Bob Adams on Nov. 18, 1996 successfully convinced the council to drop the part-time employee amendment.

The reason was the computer program had become a political issue. Two council members at the time - Jeanne Keaster and Wayne Flores - had taken out computer loans but did not pay off the balance when they left office.

Both stopped making payments once they were no longer council members. Keaster, after being pressured by the city, finally paid off her loan. Flores made additional payments and then stopped.

Suzanne Mallory confirmed Tuesday that Flores still owes money. It’s been over 12 years since Flores – who is a career Department of Corrections employee – last served on the council.

Normally anyone owing the city money who fails to pay debts is either turned over to collections or it is written off as a bad debt. That didn’t happen in the case of Flores who departed long before Mallory became finance director.

“If the money is owed, then it should be paid,” said Councilman John Harris who added that so much time has lapsed that there might be a statute of limitations issue.

Still Harris argued a debt is a debt and a promise to pay is a promise to pay.

Employees who are exempt from overtime - mid-management and management - often use their home computers for work.

The council hasn’t reevaluated the program in the past 22 years to determine if it is still meeting its original objectives.

Mallory did note that staff has added restrictions on what type of peripheral devices are eligible since the goal is to help encourage workers to become more computer proficient so it can sharpen their workplace skills.

There are other California cities that offer similar interest-free computer loans to employees as a benefit.
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