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Manteca taking shot at stimulus funding

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POSTED May 4, 2009 2:08 a.m.
Manteca is joining a growing trend across America – smaller cities hiring lobbyists to go after $787 billion in federal stimulus funds.

The City Council is expected Tuesday night to approve spending up to $89,000 for a year to hire the Van Scoyc Associations lobbying firm to represent the city in Washington, D.C., for everything from laws impacting the city and the redevelopment agency to advocating the city’s positions on federal rules and regulations that could send the cost of local government soaring. The main reason, though, is simple – get as much money as possible for the city.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford noted when the council first instructed City Manager Steve Pinkerton to proceed with securing a lobbying firm that Manteca might spent anyway.

Weatherford said in March that it would make sense for Manteca to try and obtain federal funding in the stimulus legislation as “our residents are going to be paying for it” through taxes in the coming years.

It is a sentiment that has prompted cities from Tracy to Baytown in Texas to put aside their elected leaders’ initial negative reaction to massive increases in federal spending to hire a lobbyist to go after a piece of the pie.

“This is a new venture for the city. This is a relatively conservative community and has a high degree of self-reliance, but we also understand there’s also a great opportunity for all communities, Tracy included,” Tracy City Manager Leon Churchill told the Associated Press. “The opportunity was too immense to bypass.”

Baytown City Manager Garry Brumback told AP that he had some council members who feared that the city lobbying the federal government would simply encourage more federal spending. Brumback argued it was going to be spent regardless.

“The idea that they’re going to lower your taxes if we don’t accept any money is a little bit ridiculous,” Brumback said.

Ultimately the Baytown council took the same stance as Manteca’s leaders - if you’re going to end paying for a record $3.7 trillion federal budget bloated with stimulus funds you night as well as get a share of it while you can.

In Manteca, leaders have identified two projects they hope will meet the federal requirement of “shovel ready projects” for stimulus money – a $10 million water main project for South Manteca and freeway interchange work at Union Road and the Highway 120 Bypass that is far along in the design stage. That interchange has a $15 million price tag. There are also potential wastewater-related projects that could benefit.

The city’s goal is to reduce local costs and jump start projects. President Obama’s goal is to jump start the economy and provide jobs.

Manteca’s fee will not come out of strapped general fund
H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, president and chief executive of Van Scoyoc Associates, told the AP he’s definitely noticing more interest from local governments in hiring lobbyists.

“They’re actively, aggressively looking for outside funding sources to help relieve the pain a little bit,” Van Scoyoc said.

The change in administrations has spurred interest, too. The Bush administration was viewed as less supportive of aiming federal tax dollars at local initiatives. Cities and counties now believe they have a better shot at securing federal money.

“It’s pretty much an unprecedented level of spending, a lot of it targeted toward state and local governments,” Van Scoyoc said. “I think everybody is struggling to understand exactly how to react to it, how to access it and how to then effectively implement spending and go through all the auditing the feds are putting in place.”

The $89,000 Manteca is considering spending on the lobbying firm will not come from the general fund that is facing a deficit of up to $11.3 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Instead it will be cobbled together from three restricted accounts dealing with water, sewer, and transportation improvements where growth or users cover the tab. None of that money can be used to cover the general fund costs by law as they have to be spent on the function that they were collected to support.

Pinkerton’s March memo regarding hiring a lobbyist noted the main reason is they tend to have a stronger relationship with committee chairs, congressional staff and key people in the federal bureaucracy. The city manager noted Manteca has a strong working relationship with elected leaders such as Congressman Jerry McNerney, several nearby congressmen and both U.S. Senators Barbra Boxer and Diane Feinstein but that for getting grant money in this case it is more effective to have a close working relationship with the people actually deciding how to distribute the money.

The City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
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