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Political quicksand in form of landscape maintenance districts

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POSTED June 18, 2009 1:50 a.m.
Four different contractors deploy at least a dozen people in any given week to work on the 30-plus landscape maintenance district (LMD) that cost homeowners collectively close to $1 million a year.

Starting July 1, three current City of Manteca parks maintenance workers will be devoted fulltime to the LMD work plus 50 percent of the time of a lead parks maintenance worker and an irrigation technician.

It was a move designed not to preserve service levels in dealing with the city’s general fund deficit but rather to preserve jobs.

This is a move that will come back to haunt the city’s leadership. Here’s why:

•By their own admission, the city is not the lowest responsible bidder. They have repeatedly said they will bring the costs within 5 percent of what the private contractors were charging. Assuming the maintenance portion is $400,000 that means homeowners are being dinged an extra $20,000 for the purpose of saving the equivalent of four city jobs.

•At the same April 7 meeting the City Council adopted the citizens budget committee recommendation to end the privatization of LMD contracts; they also approved a policy of evaluating “the outsourcing of non-essential jobs to local vendors within Manteca.” While it is true that the majority of the private contactors weren’t local based, at least one is.  The LMD jobs obviously aren’t essential city jobs. The fact they went ahead and ended the “outsourcing” of the LMD work means that the City Council really is giving lip service to the citizens committee when it comes to the concept of outsourcing non-essential city jobs if it saves money.

•City leadership has praised the idea of “saving” the jobs as the workers would be available in an emergency if the city needs them. That sounds good but there is one little problem – accountability. Their salaries are being paid by the LMD not the city. Does this mean they will be paid overtime from the general fund should their services be needed or are they going to skimp on the LMD work?
•How are the folks paying into the $1 million pot to upkeep LMDs know that the city’s park maintenance workers that they are paying for aren’t maintaining non-LMD landscaping such as along Industrial Park Drive and the downtown bulbs? It is akin to having the wolf guard the hen house. You’re just asking for trouble.

•The initial LMDs that include park maintenance factored in a private sector cost of maintaining them. It is obvious that the city worker has a higher cost factor per man. Does this mean the city’s decision to no longer outsource the LMD work will mean people in those LMDs will pay even more? It isn’t a small issue. While many LMDs have assessment of less than $100, those with parks are running as high as $500 or more than $40 a month.

•Now that the city no longer is serving oversight in the function as a second party but as the actual “contractor” who will make sure they are doing the best job possible? This isn’t a minor issue given how the city allowed a contactor to systematically destroy the Atherton Drive landscaping across from Bass Pro Shops.

•What level of experience does the city really have in maintaining extensive landscaping that includes a faux lake, and much more intense landscaping than basic greenery in parks? They may point to the downtown bulbs but some would point to the travesty that occurred a few years back along the Tidewater when first it was turned into tumbleweed alley and cost $15,000-plus to clean and haul off the tumbleweeds and other debris or when they allowed landscaping to die out.

•Just a year ago the powers-that-be said that LMDs were better off being contracted out. Now that there is a budget crisis their tune has changed.

All of this adds up to a warning to those on the hook for the collective $1 million that the city may not indeed be looking out for their best interests.
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