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Making BLD work for betterment of Manteca

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POSTED August 28, 2010 2:23 a.m.
Tracy has a sports complex that they are making payments on.

Manteca also has a sports complex that is easily a cut or two above Tracy’s.

But instead of making payments to retire bonds to build the $28 million complex Manteca has a positive annual flow of $460,000 into municipal coffers.

Not knocking Tracy by any stretch of the imagination but Manteca’s approach in using redevelopment agency money to build its recreation sports complex and to do so in such a manner that it is an honest-to-goodness regional draw in terms of economic impact is smart government.

Granted there are those who will always believe it was a waste of money or who do not embrace recreational pursuits no matter what as being a legitimate use of any form of tax dollars. Also it must be understood that the RDA money is borrowed money secured by property tax assessment on those properties within the agency’s jurisdiction.

The old model of financing would have been floating either general obligation bonds requiring payment from the general fund or other loan instruments that would require park growth fees to foot the debt costs each year. Even so, if growth slowed down and the park funds were depleted the city’s general fund would still be on the book.

Regardless of all of that, mayoral candidate Carlon Perry understands the bottom line. Love it or hate it the Big League Dreams sports complex is here. After arguing unsuccessfully whether the private-public partnership with the city owning the complex and BLD leasing it was an appropriate use of public funds, Perry’s stance today is everyone – opponents and supporters – now must work together to make sure BLD delivers.

As a side note, most of the political heavy lifting to make BLD a reality fell on the shoulders of Willie Weatherford who is now the incumbent mayor that Perry is challenging on Nov. 2. Weatherford credits Perry with making sure Manteca got an even bigger return than BLD originally offered over the course of the 35-year lease. Perry was hammering them so hard that Manteca got a higher percentage of receipts than any other BLD complex built so far in partnership with cities.

That is the beauty of true give-and-take between elected officials who have opposing positions. It can ultimately end up with a better situation than originally envisioned.

The complex - by all criteria laid out when it was first proposed for Manteca – is a bigger success than projected. That, however, doesn’t mean the work of elected officials regarding to BLD is done, far from it.

The BLD lease payments are now apparently flowing into the city fund reserves for use to further reduce deficits. That’s good – for now.

What you don’t  want to see happen is that BLD lease payment for the next 35 years ending up like the bonus bucks paid for sewer allocation. Instead of going to one-time projects as a way of making growth benefit the entire community the bonus bucks went to subsidized an unsustainable general fund spending level.

One of the political selling points of the BLD financing was that the lease payments would come back and pay for recreation and parks. So instead of the complex being a drain on park fees and recreation it would actually enhance it.

These are unusual times. Also, people have got to accept the fact we are not going back to “normal” in terms of government operations ever again.

Using the money from BLD to shore up the general fund makes sense for now. However when things get on even keel that money flowing back to the general fund should not subsidize Manteca spending beyond its means for general government operations.

That is why the staff proposal advanced last year by Bruce Mulder in Parks & Recreation and advocated by mayoral candidate Ben Cantu  should be considered for future funding from the BLD funds.

In a nutshell the city could significantly reduce the problem of after school mischief – and even cut down on the lure of gangs – by operating drop-in recreation programs at various neighborhood parks. It would require part-time staff - probably college students - plus equipment and a trailer or two for equipment.

It fits right into Police Chief Dave Bricker’s vision to find healthy diversions that can also provide mentoring for kids in their neighborhoods.

Even if $250,000 of the $450,000 was set aside each year from BLD funds for such a purpose, it would have a tremendous impact. And it would go a long way to making sure that BLD “works” for the community.
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