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Manteca council has commitment problem

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POSTED November 18, 2016 12:43 a.m.

What ails government today?
Take a ride out to Woodward Avenue and Atherton Drive and you can find a clue.
On the northwest corner is a parcel of land donated to the city nearly 15 years ago by Atherton Homes to build a fire station.
A couple hundred feet to the east as you near Moffat Boulevard is a parcel where several members of the current Manteca City Council want to see a combined police and fire training facility built.
Whoever said talk is cheap never saw a politician at work.
The training center would have a price tag in excess of $3 million. The fire station — which would provide vital lifesaving service and property protection for thousands of Manteca residents now outside of a critical 5 minute response window — carries a cost of $2.6 million.
The City of Manteca has grown a fondness for spending money on design work for a project yet not clearly identifying how they are going to finance the construction. They did exactly that this week for downtown alley improvements. And they did it for the fire station as well that has partial design plans costing $149,195 done but no commitment of a funding source to build it.
There are also issues of whether Manteca will be able to keep six firefighter positions after federal funding lapses.
So with this backdrop Councilwoman Debby Moorhead is championing the idea of a public safety training center. No one should question Moorhead’s sincerity or her intentions. That’s not the problem. At the end of the day the City of Manteca only has so much money at its disposal whether it is today or 50 years down the road.
Someone needs to make adult decisions so the city can become more focused, more efficient, and more cost effective in delivering capital projects that go beyond basic infrastructure. Manteca is good to very effective — depending upon your viewpoint — when it comes to delivering water and wastewater related projects. Beyond that they get caught in a Twilight Zone. It is why it takes 13 years after council approves building a dog park that physical work actually starts on one. It is why the library facilities —another ongoing “project” that has lingered for going on 20 years —has as much life to as a natural Christmas tree kicked to the curbside in March.
It is wrong to view this as a failure of staff.
It is the failure of elected leaders to make clear, precise, and absolute policy directives.
If that is not the case and the council points the fingers at staff it should raise serious questions as to who is running the show when it comes to setting the parameters of exactly where Manteca is heading. This is not about nuts and bolts issues but about timelines and a decision from the outset of how a project will be funded.
If staff comes up with other sources to fund a project such as they did when redevelopment agency money was designated for the $450,000 piece of static art at Library Park that once operated as an interactive water play feature, they can bring it back to the council.
By not attaching money to a project the council essentially relegates it to the shelf. And by tossing out new project ideas such as a public safety training facility the waters are muddied even more.
Moorhead —a staunch advocate of police and fire services — is right in that it would be nice to have a state-of-the-art public safety training facility so police and firefighters wouldn’t  have to travel outside of Manteca for some of their ongoing training.
She would be doing those that serve and protect us a bigger favor if she — or anyone else on the council  — stepped up and had a council discussion on committing funds first for a fire station until waiting on staff to decide whether the fire station should be a true priority.
The ironic thing is there is funding available for the fire station and it is from the same people that donated land for the fire station years ago. Atherton Homes volunteered to pay bonus bucks for a new neighborhood practically across the street from the fire station site that will generate $2.6 million by build-out.
Someone on the council should push to commit that money now to the fire station. If staff is left to devising how the bonus bucks will be used, we may wake up one day and discover the bonus bucks used to backfill city operating budget holes as other bonus bucks were to the tune of $11.5 million from 2004 through 2011.
 Dedicating the bonus bucks funding from the Atherton Homes project to build the city’s fourth fire station would do three things.
uOnce the first building permit is issued, the city would be on firm ground to go out to bid for building the fire station. They can take what fees they have in the fire fee growth account and advance it as well as borrow as they have in the past from other city growth-related accounts and then repay it as the neighborhood builds out over a two- to four-year period.
uIt would free up new growth fees for fire to address the need for additional and replacement fire engines as well as start setting money aside for the city’s fifth fire station.
uIt would send a message to firefighters — as well as city residents — that the Manteca City Council made a clear cut decision and that it won’t leave public safety dangling in the wind.

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