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Saving city jobs may cost private sector jobs

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POSTED May 18, 2009 12:38 a.m.

It’s a political paradox.

At the same time municipal staff is asking Manteca’s elected leaders to consider outsourcing some functions to save money they are lobbying for a plan to assume work that has already been outsourced to save city jobs.

The proposal to assign four park maintenance workers to the landscape maintenance districts isn’t as much about saving $350,000 in the general fund as the city isn’t currently doing the work as it is about saving the jobs. The workers – if the City Council buys into the concept – would have to work 100 percent of the time on the city’s three dozen plus landscape maintenance districts and not spend any time on park maintenance or even landscaping areas such as downtown or the new Yosemite Avenue/Highway 99 interchange when it is installed there because both of those are the city’s responsibility.

The reason is simple. The money is being collected from property owners for the sole purpose of landscape maintenance district (LMD) upkeep. Any other use of the money by having those who are pulling 100 percent of their “city” paycheck from the LMDs would be improper.

“The selling point for me so far is that the  city has to answer complaints about the upkeep so (this way) we’d have control over the actual work being done.” noted Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford.

Even so, Weatherford has reservations and indicated staff needs to make it very clear what they are proposing before asking the council to terminate the contracts as early as July 1.

“We can’t take away the work (from contractors) at one price and then turn around and increase the cost (to the property owners),” Weatherford said.

City staff has argued municipal workers can be deployed more effectively. That, of course, assumes the workers are doing both park and LMD work which would be illegal if they are being paid 100 percent from LMD revenues. It also brings up questions of how the city is going to charge off the use of equipment including vehicles to the LMDs.

City staff during Thursday’s budget workshop stressed the $350,000 can’t be transferred into the general fund and that the workers would be assigned instead to the LMDs.

In doing so, the private contractors who are losing the work in all likelihood will have to lay off some of their employees.

Parks and Recreation Director Steve Houx several months ago indicated that the city could come within 5 percent of the cost of the private sector doing the work. However, if the cost is 5 percent higher and is then picked up by those in the LMDs the city in effect would not be assigning the work to the lowest responsible vendor.

No legal opinion has been made public indicating if the city can simply ignore state laws requiring the lowest responsible bidders to get the work simply because they want to save the jobs of four municipal workers.

Virtually every year the issue of the city taking over the work of the districts where the overall bill is approaching $1 million on an annual basis has been brought up. Each time in the past the city staff’s response to inquiries from the public or the council is the fact the city can’t do the work as inexpensive as the private sector can.

But when the city was staring down an $11.3 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1, taking over the LMDs was viewed as a practical move. All other budget moves so far have been predicated on keeping positions vacant and shifting personnel and procedures to keep service levels intact as much  as possible.

The LMDs are a different animal. It won’t have any cost savings on the budget since the four workers assigned to be paid 100 percent by the LMDs wouldn’t be able to do any work for the city.

Also, staff hasn’t provided dollars and cents data like they did back in the late 1990s when then Mayor Carlon Perry led the charge to see whether prioritization the municipal sewer operations would help keep rate increases down. In the end, the data – actual bids from several firms – and the city’s actual operating cost proved the city could do the work for less. No such comparison between how the city would run the LMD’s day-to-day upkeep compared to private contractors has yet been made public.

Various moves taken so far have whittled the projected deficit down to $2.5 million. That number could change as property tax reassessments are made and if the state again borrows local property tax to help balance their budget.

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