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Despite Greek chorus Manteca has never flirted with bankruptcy

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POSTED September 27, 2012 11:12 p.m.

Manteca has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy three to four times in the past 40 years.

Each time the city has laid off workers.

Nice story line. Too bad it isn’t true.

Manteca is not - and never has been - on the threshold of filing bankruptcy despite the story some history revisionists are busy spending these days. Yes, Manteca has laid off workers and that was during the recent economic downturn considered the worst since The Great Depression.

Other times since 1970 they simply let positions remain vacant when people retired or changed jobs. And - in a few cases where people were near retirement and the city needed to trim costs - they offered relatively small financial incentives for them to step aside  early.

It is exactly what the private sector does except with one big caveat. Private sector employers to stay afloat due to increased business costs that include taxes to support government and their payroll of public sector workers as well as market fluctuations actually have laid people off with a much, much greater frequency than just once every 40 years-plus.

Beating the drum saying that somehow Manteca is wrong in  paring back municipal service staffing even through attrition is a bit disingenuous when it comes from folks that demand fiscal responsibility from elected leaders. What is more fiscally responsible than adjusting spending to match a drop in revenue to essentially protect your core business which in this case is providing the citizens with municipal services?

No one likes bigger workloads. But then again it is the way of the world these days. Current - and past - municipal employees have done an admirable job stepping up to the plate in good and bad times in terms of being efficient and meeting the community’s basic day-to-day needs.

Some like to point to Manteca’s cyclical budget spending patterns in the past 40 years as if it was a cardinal sin. Manteca has gotten it right. Government spending needs to drop in recession and economic downturns just like it does for the folks that write the checks for government’s operating costs. Those folks would be called the private sector.

It would have been completely irresponsible for city leaders to have let spending go unchecked during downturns including the current one.

The only way Manteca could have flattened out spending what some view as a good thing was to raise taxes during downturns or to spend a lot less on staffing during upswings. Such a strategy would effectively tighten the noose around the private sector in trying economic times and do the same when growth demands more services.

This city has made sure their retirees stay financially whole. They haven’t steered the city on a reckless course so therefore there is no threat of a bankruptcy that would ultimately force the partial collapse of retirement benefits.

When former City Manager Dave Jinkens and former Finance Director Lettie Espinoza arrived in Manteca in 1982, the city was reeling from the fallout of widespread infighting A bitter recall election that removed two council members and the mayor over the termination of then Police Chief Leonard Taylor got the city off course. When things started settling down, Manteca had a general fund reserve of $1,800.

Even so, they did not even talk about the possibility of bankruptcy.

Instead, they went to work and instituted budget measures that since then have consistently overestimated expenditures and underestimated revenues. It’s called conservative budgeting. And when economic flows changed, they adjusted accordingly whether it was holding the line on hiring or the painful situation just recently of taking back compensation or laying off employees.

Cities teetering on bankruptcy do not have AA ratings in water and sewer bonds for basic services that haven’t seen a rate increase now for more than three years.

They don’t have  general fund reserves of $4.4 million. Nor would they have had $2.1 million in interest earnings as an audit noted last year with $540,000 coming from interest on tax receipts and $1.6 million in interest from non-taxes such as growth fees, sewer, water, refuse, and other accounts.

Manteca has all of that and more.

If Manteca’s leadership is guilty of anything it is making sure the city lives within its means no matter how painful that might be.



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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