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Municipal crisis: We are all in this together

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POSTED May 2, 2009 1:54 a.m.
The City of Manteca at one point had 430 approved employee positions.

That was at the start of the current economic malaise triggered by the foreclosure mess,

Today, there are 370 municipal workers on the job.

If all goes well and another 10 to 20 employees will retire in the coming fiscal year, property and sales tax news isn’t as gloomy as feared, and all of the budget cutting strategies being pursued and put in place Manteca has a chance of skating by the 2009-10 fiscal year without any layoffs while delivering a balanced budget.

It isn’t a sure thing by far. Manteca, though, has gotten to this point thanks to a number of factors:

•employee groups that understood the writing on the wall and were willing to work with the city’s new fiscal constraints.

•workers stepping up to learn new jobs or take on additional responsibilities.

•early reaction by staff and elected leaders alike to pull back on spending and start leaving positions vacant months before other cities started putting on the brakes.

Contrast Manteca to what is happening in Stockton.

On Friday, the City of Stockton issued 93 layoff notices including 55 police officers. The other 38 were spread through other departments. They also demoted seven police sergeants. The layoffs and demotions go into effect June 30, 2009.

Stockton City Manager Gordon Palmer in a press release noted there were no major concessions from the Stockton Police Officers Association and no other concessions from other employee groups. The result - with Stockton having less money - means fewer city jobs.

Make no mistake about it. Municipal services require workers to deliver them. Manteca’s reduced staffing ultimately means reduced levels of services throughout the city.

It will be the Manteca work force that remains that will be responsible for keeping things running. Virtually every worker is learning new skills and jobs in order to cover the responsibilities once handled by vacated positions.

Some streamlining will reduce the need for manpower but in the end the city essentially is prioritizing what has to be done absolutely and going from there.

Manteca prior to the economic slowdown was already leading other valley cities in terms of efficiencies in many departments. Instead of simply throwing up their hands and saying they can’t find any more new ways to be more efficient, municipal workers have dug in and are trying to re-engineer jobs and tasks to make sure service reductions that are made are as minimal as possible.

To make it work, however, they will need all of our help.

The Manteca Police Department is down 14 positions. This may mean we may have to begrudgingly make on-line reports for non-violent incidents such as property theft off our porches when we really like to share our frustrations directly with a sworn officer or a community service officer.

We may need to help out by sweeping gutters and – if we live near a storm drain – keeping debris off of it.

If we’re so inclined, we might pick up litter we pass as we walk in parks. Better yet, we can use peer pressure to try and make people clean up after themselves.

We are all in this together. We can complain about taxes but they are a necessary evil so we can have police and fire protection as well as parks, streets, and a library.

Our municipal workers have done an excellent job in the past. They are now taking pay cuts and taking on extra work and have collectively vowed to keep the city moving forward. We just need to help them when we can because this is our community.
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