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Manteca council & city employees read their lips

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POSTED April 27, 2010 2:37 a.m.
The next time you see Kirk Dall, Eric Woh le, Rick Arucan, Fred Milner, Steve Keegan, Charlotte Stafford, JoAnne Jamerson, Bruce Bentz, Christina Crutchfield, Maryann Morrison and Kevin Wentworth among others, you might want to tell them thank you.

They were part of the 15-member citizen budget committee appointed by the Manteca City Council. Thanks in a large part to them the ball started rolling 15 months ago to severely reduce the municipal budget.

The role they played was pivotal. They represented a broad cross-section of the community. After a series of meetings and listening to how funding worked, examining the budget process, as well as looking at revenue projections and expenses it wasn’t too hard to read their lips - “no new taxes.”

It was crystal clear to virtually every municipal employee group that had representatives at the citizens’ budget meetings that there was no way any type of tax increase would be embraced by the general community.

That cleared the way for extensive cutbacks that helped balance this year’s city budget to wipe out an $11.3 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. It also reduced the projected deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2010 taking it from $14.9 million down to $3.8 million.

It can’t be emphasized just how effective that committee’s stance was in setting things in motion.

Dall was the group’s messenger for the final report to the Manteca City Council. Among the committee’s recommendations none was as important or as unanimous as making it clear the council needed to kill any talk of a new municipal utility tax.

“This is the straw that will break (our backs),” Dall told the council on April 7, 2009 of the proposed utility tax trial balloon floated by municipal staff as a possible way to help reduce the projected $11.3 million deficit  facing the city at the time.

Dall, speaking as the chair of the 15-member committee, made it clear the panel’s sentiments were to continue finding ways to cut costs including meeting with employee groups to try and roll back wages and/or benefits or else lay off workers.

Dall pointed out the city’s nearly 3,000 unemployed, the new increases in state taxes, rising food costs, and the continuing foreclosure mess as being ample reasons why elected leaders shouldn’t entertain a new tax as a way to get the city out from under its approaching tidal wave of red ink.

Instead, he noted the committee embraced staff proposals to recoup costs through imposing fees for the actual cost of municipal services wherever possible.

Virtually every employee group got the message. And for the one that didn’t, the committee’s clear message gave the council the fortitude to stand firm against pressure to break.

 At the time Manteca started making major cuts, many leaders in nearby cities openly made remarks that Manteca was obviously in worse shape than they were. That was the case - to a degree. Acting early and aggressively ended up putting Manteca in a better position than those jurisdictions that have waited until recently to come to grips with the need to make big cuts.

By acting earlier, Manteca has had a better track record of keeping service levels as high as possible. And now while other cities are in a panic mode, Manteca has moved to the next level to rethink how they deliver services in order to gain efficiency and reduce costs further.

\Without a doubt, Manteca being able to tighten its collective belt without a major impact on services is the direct result of dedicated and hardworking municipal employees who are realists. Still, the committee’s contribution can’t be overstated given the fact they made sure the popping of the utility tax trial balloon was loud enough to drown out Van Halen in concert.

Manteca’s leaders - unlike many in nearby cities - do not believe things will return to the way they once were when it comes to money flowing freely into municipal coffers.

The mantra for the people who keep this city of 67,000 running is out-of-the-box thinking to find ways that accomplish two goals that they embrace - keeping service levels as high as feasible and seeking new ways of doing the people’s business to reduce costs.
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