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Tough times but Moorhead upbeat

Says city must look to future while dealing with budget crisis

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Tough times but Moorhead upbeat

Manteca City Council members, from left, John Harris, Vince Hernandez, Mayor Willie Weatherford, Debby Moorhead, and Steve DeBrum during a recent meeting.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED February 10, 2009 4:26 a.m.
Debby Moorhead is upbeat about Manteca’s future.
It might not be what you’d expect from someone who took office right as the Manteca City Council started looking in earnest at ways to chip away at a projected $11.3 million deficit that will develop in the next fiscal year starting July 1 if revenue and spending patterns in place in December aren’t changed.
The way Moorhead sees it is that Manteca is in a much better position than virtually all of its neighbors including Stockton that just issued layoff notices to 29 police officers.
“City Council members and staff have put Manteca in a good position,” Moorhead said.
It’s been just under 100 days since Moorhead was elected as the fourth woman council member in Manteca’s 91-year history.
Moorhead noted Spreckels Park, Big League Dreams, Costco, and Bass Pro Shops are four examples of how Manteca’s leaders have been able to put in place retail and attractions that have helped bring money into the local economy right as the recession started.
Moorhead said it is important that Manteca not just weather the current budget crisis but work to position itself at the same time to snag more employment opportunities while working to enhance the quality of life.
She pointed to the International Conference of Shopping Centers coming up in Las Vegas. Manteca is attending this year to aggressively pitch retail opportunities including the Lifestyle Outlets at Manteca.
“Other cities are pulling back but this is when you need to look ahead more than ever,” Moorhead said.
She noted it was just as important to keep pushing hard now to make projects happen five years down the road. Moorhead said  a prime example was the Austin Road interchange that is critical to attracting employers in a business park that could generate as many as 13,000 new jobs.
She explained it is a long process to get funding and to build the $110 million project that is needed to allow full development of the 1,050-acre Austin Road Business Park. Sidelining work on projects like the interchange while Manteca works on restructuring government operations means lost time  that could end up putting Manteca out of position to snag good paying jobs when the economy does pick up.
Moorhead said her primary objective is to serve the community.
To that extent, she answers all of her e-mails and looks forward to people stopping her in the grocery store or on the street to share concerns about city government.
She got an earful over the balloon floated about a possible increase in the utility tax to generate more city revenue.
One gentleman who approached her about it ended up being appointed by Moorhead to the 15-member citizens a budget advisory committee.
The way Moorhead figured it the gentleman would have a chance to see what the city’s up against and then determine if he thinks the utility tax is needed or has suggestions on what services to cutback or how to change operations to make sure expenses don’t exceed municipal revenues.
As things stand now, City Manager Steve Pinkerton believes strategies put in place so far by the City Council including freezing jobs and furloughs will cover at least half of the projected $11.3 million deficit. The citizens committee is expected to help Manteca come up with ideas to bridge the rest of the gap.
Moorhead said she is making it a point to listen to everyone before coming up with a decision.
“I am never going to walk into a meeting with my mind definitely made up,” Moorhead said. “You never know when someone from the community or another council member may make a point that can make you think differently.”
 Part of her effort to get input is how she’s asked others including Mayor Willie Weatherford to address her at meetings.
“It was my request that I be called Councilwoman Debby,” Moorhead said. “I want people to feel comfortable approaching me.”
Moorhead said in talking with all department heads and a number of municipal employees she realizes that all municipal services are important.
While she pointed out public safety is a 24 hour operation making it critical, if the wastewater plant stopped working or water stopped flowing that it would be essential to restore them.
That is why she likes the attitude has encountered from various municipal employees to find ways in each department to help Manteca services weather the economic downturn.
“We’re all in this together,” Moorhead said.
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