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It may not be worth giving up $100K for $1M

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POSTED April 20, 2010 2:47 a.m.
Would you trade $100,000 a year for $1 million a year?    

The answer may seem obvious but it isn’t.

What if that $100,000 directly impacted your quality of life but the $1 million may only have a trickle down impact? You’d think twice about the switch.

That is why Manteca residents should look with a jaded eye at the latest strategy of using foreclosure activity and subsequent blight to potentially expand the redevelopment project area by 11 neighborhoods.

Manteca municipal staff’s explanation that ultimately Manteca annually will end up losing $100,000 in general fund money in return for $1 million for the redevelopment agency isn’t good enough.

There has got to be more than playing keep away when it comes to the State of California taking local property taxes. And there’s got to be more to it than the promise of trickle down impacts from investing in major infrastructure using RDA money whether it is interchanges or major sewer lines in a bid to attract firms that will create jobs and therefore provide property and sales tax as well as paychecks.

That isn’t saying that those two goals aren’t admirable. It’s just that the time has come to really address the issue of blight fight more than simply stoking the flames of Manteca’s economic engine.

By all measures, Manteca is doing quite well compared to virtually every other municipality in the region. Manteca is emerging as the leader in both home and retail construction at a time when everyone else is tanking big time. Retail sales are also up from over a year ago the complete reverse of virtually everywhere else. We need to keep pushing for economic development but we shouldn’t do so at the risk of neglecting basic needs and services.

How should this money be used? One possibility is streets.

A municipal study shows city streets are in danger of slipping in overall quality unless municipal expenditures for pavement maintenance are kicked up by $800,000 a year.

A survey of city streets shows that the 191 total centerline miles of municipal roadways have a pavement condition index of 75.  That means, on average, they’ve got 75 percent of their life expectancy left. Manteca is now spending an average of $500,000 a year on road maintenance projects. But the pavement management study shows that amount needs to be kicked up to $1.3 million annually just to maintain the current level of quality.

While not all of those streets are within RDA project boundaries, many are.

This council should make it a municipal policy statement that if any or all of the 11 neighborhoods are added to the RDA project area that the tax dollars generated will go to the actual fight of blight in existing neighborhoods with maintenance that the general fund can’t afford to support. Streets as well as parks fall in that category. Better yet, the council should instruct staff to come up with a way to make the general fund’s loss of $100,000 virtually non-existent. That would mean having one and a half streets or parks workers that are paid for with RDA funds working exclusively on improvements in RDA neighborhoods. The city has a similar arrangement with park workers handling landscape maintenance district duties. That would leave $900,000 a year to go to street projects, park upgrades or anything else that would basically fight blight.

It is nice that the city has been effective at going out and landing the big fish but they need to find ways to start paying more direct attention to existing neighborhoods. Powers Tract, for example, may benefit in a roundabout way through RDA. Having Spreckels Park next door instead of an abandoned sugar plant has a positive impact on property values. It won’t help in the long run if the city can’t afford to keep neighborhood streets and Lincoln Park in good shape.

If anyone views this as an issue of trust, they are right.

People need to have their faith strengthened in government at all levels.

It may indeed be true the city is getting victimized by the state and the fact we are doing better than most other jurisdictions but that isn’t enough.

Our elected leaders - instead of simply going along with staff - need to tell us what they want to see done with the additional RDA money the expansion would generate. They were hoodwinked by a previous management team when it came to what was going to be done with bonus bucks which we all know ended up primarily balancing the city budget instead of going toward one-time investment so growth would improve the quality of life for everyone in Manteca.

The council needs to get out in front of this one and make it clear where the money should go. Simply saying they are going to stockpile it for whatever comes along isn’t an answer.

Such an answer should make people dig in their heels and say enough is enough as it isn’t worth risking $100,000 for the “promise” of all the good things $1 million might do for our neighborhoods.
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