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Entire council barking up wrong tree

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POSTED July 9, 2009 2:17 a.m.
People who see in black and white only inadvertently shortchange themselves – and others – by not embracing a wide repertoire of hues that can make things possible even during trying times.

Such was the case Tuesday night when five well-meaning elected leaders reacted to two proposed projects – the dog park and the planting of 250 trees along the Moffat Boulevard corridor of the Tidewater Bikeway – in black and white.

Council members Steve DeBrum, Vince Hernandez, and Debby Moorhead voted not to proceed as they were worried about ongoing maintenance costs in these fiscally challenging times while Mayor Willie Weatherford and Councilman John Harris wanted staff to prepare the projects to the point where the council could decide whether to actually go out and secure bids and proceed.

Both sides have valid points. However, instead of simply trying to move the tree project forward by trying a second vote minus the dog park Mayor Weatherford could have opened the door for dialogue that could have come up with a solution that would have taken the following indisputable points into consideration:

•revenue for general fund operations are declining at best and will continue to be a problem into the future.

•current construction costs are anywhere from 25 to 45 percent below what they were three years ago meaning construction dollars collected from taxpayers via growth fees will go that much farther in today’s climate.

•volunteers are not just the key to supplement or enhance basic, municipal services but they can set the stage for making a big community buy in to various amenities to get rid of the modern-day malaise that we should simply depend on government to do everything for us.

Hernandez is right. The city needs to enlist community-based groups to help maintain new amenities such as is happening with Anderson 209 and the BMX Park. Obviously, all costs are needs aren’t going to be picked up 100 percent by a community-based group but they can go a long way to making things work with the added bonus of buy-in and community pride.

The dog park will probably never be as inexpensive to construct as it is today. Roberta Matthews and friends are trying to get things going in the form of the Manteca Dog Park group (e-mail mantecadogpark@yahoo.com)

So how do you deal with a general fund under duress to address ongoing maintenance cost versus community wants and the fact the city has restricted money that can be spent now and stretched much farther than it would have three year ago as well as when the economy recovers?

One way is to get the dog park ready to go out to bid while at the same time working with the group on some type of commitment to help with the maintenance whether it is having volunteers making sure the doo-do is picked up on a regular basis as well as other things that do not require supervision of city staff. This doesn’t mean the city should expect the group to offset the entire $15,000 annual estimated cost of maintenance. Perhaps an expectation should be 30 percent or so of the actual work.

What happens if the city proceeds and the group doesn’t deliver? Simple. Lock the facility until such time as a volunteer-based effort can help the city. What happens if the city can only enlist a few volunteers to help clean the place maybe twice a week? Simple. Only allow the park to be unlocked twice a week.

The bottom line is Manteca can secure a dog park for an extremely reasonable price now. It could provide a good test case of how effective volunteers are as well as make people aware that they have to take an active part in helping with amenities that dovetail into their purists much like soccer and youth baseball organizations do that use municipal facilities.

The 250 trees along Moffat offer a less daunting solution. The city needs to enlist people who use it to periodically check on the condition of irrigation as the major cost issue along this stretch is vandalism such as it was elsewhere on the Tidewater.

The $5,000 annual maintenance cost is on the high end expecting the worst case scenario which is wanton vandalism.

Vandalism is a problem that won’t go away even if the city is flush with money. A volunteer group monitoring the trees and perhaps even empowered to replace irrigation heads if that is possible would go a long way to alleviate the city’s money concerns.

You need to respect the council majority on this one but the problem is if they are consistent with the stance they took Tuesday, long-awaited playground renovations and things such as improvements to things such as the Lincoln Park ball field will stop because they put increased pressure on park maintenance.

Each and every council member has no problem in chiding Sacramento for the same-old, same-old approach. The time has come for the council to look inward and see how they can really change not only how the city does the people’s business but how it involves the community effectively in the solution.
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