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Reserves taken to edge, service cuts on chopping block for Manteca

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POSTED April 28, 2011 2:06 a.m.

All the money is gone.

Manteca is essentially out of unrestricted reserves they can tap into in order to deliver a balanced budget for the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

The past three years of encouraging early retirement, restructuring job duties to do more with less workers, unpaid furloughs, and compensation concessions from staff has allowed the whittling down of employee ranks by more than 20 percent without a “noticeable” impact on services. That - in connection with an infusion of unrestricted reserves that have included the “bonus bucks” paid by developers for sewer allocation certainty - allowed Manteca to match expenses with available revenue while slashing millions in city costs.

And while the city has money - its enterprise accounts, for example, and other restricted funds have healthy balances - that money can’t be used to support the general fund that pays for day-to-day services such as public safety, parks, and streets.

In the best-case scenario as things now stand revenue projections - especially from sales and property taxes that provide a large chunk of the general fund - will end up flat or slightly worse than expected. That means the city is anticipating a shortfall in revenue in excess of $3 million and - depending upon what the state does and what actual sales tax figures show in the coming months - it could go as high as $4.5 million.

That leaves only one real way to save money, according to City Manager Steve Pinkerton, and that is to cut service levels.

And where those cuts may come from are now the subject of intense studies by municipal departments.

At the same time all of the municipal employee contracts expire at the end of the year. The city is in negotiations with all of the groups.

Pinkerton declined comment on negotiations but indicated that everyone understands that in excess of 80 percent of the general fund is reflected in salaries and benefits.

He did note that volunteers can help somewhat but when all is said and done even a strong volunteer effort would still end up with the city unable to maintain current services.

Even so, he noted volunteers have been a big plus in the Manteca Police Department to free up patrol officers by handling pedestrian but essential duties. The department had 89 paid employees between sworn officers and support personnel. There are 251 volunteers augmenting the efforts of the officers. The small army of volunteers includes 91 SHARP members, 17 police reserves, 98 members of the Community Emergency Response Team, 17 police chaplains, 16 Police Explorers, and 12 Volunteers in Police Services. The 17 reserves actually can augment a paid police position.

Pinkerton noted if the city is able to establish similar volunteer efforts in other departments it would go a long ways to softening the blow of needed service cuts.

Pinkerton emphasized no decision has been made as to what services to cut back and that everything is being considered.

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