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High cost of green: LMDs near $1M yearly

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POSTED April 12, 2009 5:07 a.m.
It costs a lot of green to operate Manteca’s landscape maintenance districts.

It is why Del Webb residents are battling the city over a proposed $60.65 annual assessment on their individual lots to pay for the maintenance on landscaping including utilities (electric and water), irrigation systems, entry signs, walls and other hardscapes, graffiti removal, vandalism repair, curbs and gutters as well as re-lamping of decorative lights (on Union Road only by Woodbridge) on improvements made for the 1,425-home age-restricted neighborhood along Union Road, Airport Way and Lathrop Road. There are future improvements yet to be made that aren’t figured into the proposed assessment.

The cost is $86,426. Originally it was $114,769.50 or $80.54 per lot before Pulte Homes and residents questioned some of the justification for expenses.

The residents contend they’d rather have the cost of maintaining the landscaping handled by their homeowners association instead of a landscape maintenance district (LMD) which they believe will cost them less. They are pushing for the city to suspend leveling a charge against the property owners until such time the city is unsatisfied with the work.

The decision in May will come as the City Council will mull shifting all work from private contractors to city park maintenance staff without the benefit of competitive bidding. The idea is to shift $250,000 paid to contractors to do the work to the parks department budget to preserve municipal jobs.

If Woodbridge isn’t done the same way, that could reduce the shift to the city’s budget by at least $22,000.

40 percent of LMD is administrative costs

Of the $86,426.25 cost only $48,177 goes to actual physical work and improvements including $22,052 for the landscape maintenance and supplies. Another $5,000 is for landscaping repairs and a contingency fund while $4,925 is for a capital replacement fund.

Direct costs are $700 for electricity and $15,500 for water.

There is a $7,125 operating reserve collection fund too.

That leaves $31,124.25 – or about 40 percent – to cover administrative costs. That includes $15,703 for personnel and overhead, $14,250 for the consultant who tallies the ballots and calculates the costs, $100 for professional fees, $864.62 for county administrative fees, $200 for miscellaneous expenses, and $6.63 for rounding adjustment.

As originally presented, the Del Webb LMD would been the second highest landscape maintenance district in Manteca coming in behind Tesoro in South Manteca with 485 lots with  $440.42 per lot charge each year for $213,603.

The Union Ranch landscape maintenance district is being formed just to cover the maintenance of medians and sound walls on Airport Way, Union Road and future ones being put in on Lathrop Road.

If the Union Ranch district proceeds as presented, it would bring the number of landscape maintenance districts in Manteca to 34 and up the overall assessment levied to keep landscaping along sound walls and neighborhood entrances green and tidy — as well as some neighborhood parks — to  $986,872 per year.

To put that in perspective, that is almost 25 percent of the $4,223,180 annual cost of running the entire Parks and Recreation Department — including 48 city parks but excluding the senior center and golf course.

Residential landscape maintenance districts require all lots within the subdivisions — regardless of how close they are to the sound walls or median landscaping — to pay an equal share.

No two districts are alike. Some cover just sound walls and a few, with a new trend put in place last year by the council, help pay for the upkeep of the neighborhood park as well.

Rodoni Estates will pay $565.12 for each of the 99 homes in the triangle bounded by Highway 99, Cottage Avenue and Louise Avenue making it the city’s most expensive per lot landscape maintenance district. It is one of the few that includes park maintenance.

The council in the late 1990s opted to go with landscaping maintenance districts after getting repeatedly hammered by neighbors of new developments complaining about the proliferation of “Manteca canyons” or sound walls that meet Manteca’s simple standards of a six-foot masonry wall, center sidewalks up to the sound wall and tree wells ever so often. Sound walls such as the one along Yosemite Avenue at Curran Grove that has drawn criticism at council meetings actually exceeds city standards as the wall is a foot higher and there are more trees than rewired.

More elaborate sound walls have advanced the assessments are reviewed yearly by the council. They do not come up for a vote again unless a proposed assessment represents a jump in cost that is more than 3 percent or more than the cost of living index, which every figure is higher.

Property owners can apparently vote to disband a landscape maintenance assessment district but it involves a process that can take as long as four years.
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