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City may take over care of landscaping

Move could generate $300,000 to pay for staffing

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City may take over care of landscaping

Manteca Parks Department worker Hugo Harrewya finishes up some sprinkler work at Union West Park on Friday afternoon.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED January 10, 2009 12:09 a.m.
City crews could soon take over maintaining neighborhood sound wall landscaping.
It is part of a wide-ranging strategy to keep Manteca’s parks and public landscaping maintained in acceptable conditions while cutting municipal costs.
There are currently 34 landscape maintenance districts in Manteca funded by property owners in the form of varying annual assessments. Two firms are currently contracted to perform the work.
Under a plan being advanced by Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Houx, city crews would assume duties connected with the districts.
Houx indicated there is roughly $300,000 of the more than $860,000 collected that is committed to paying for manpower and basic upkeep costs. The balance covers water, power, a reserve for replacement costs of damaged items such as the masonry sound walls, and administrative overhead.
Houx said the city could assign existing staff —plus perhaps hire several part-time workers — to do the tasks. The end result would increase the workload for municipal workers who will be assisted by some part-timers but in the end it would allow the district to take the lion’s share of the $300,000 to put toward existing staffing costs.
Theoretically, the city could also drop the outside consultant and make it an in-house task that would actually end up reducing cost slightly in future assessment years
Houx shared his strategies with the City Council Thursday on how the Parks and Recreation Department is going to do their share to bridge next year’s budget deficit that has grown to between $10 million to $12 million. Various strategies outlined are expected to cut that deficit by as much as half, according to City Manager Steve Pinkerton.
The department presently has 51 fulltime workers and 250 part-time workers covering parks maintenance as well as recreation programs. It takes $5.1 million in general funds to run the department’s operations that include maintaining 48 parks.
The park maintenance staff is responsible for upkeep on 12.3 acres per employee. That compares to anywhere from 9 to 12.5 acres per parks worker in neighboring jurisdictions. They currently oversee 358 acres with another 28 acres of parks coming on line this year. There are 15.6 acres including in the landscape maintenance districts.
Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford commented, “I’d hate to see you diminish quality” in the landscape maintenance districts since people are paying for it directly.
Houx assured that wouldn’t happen. He outlined the department’s plan to tweak maintenance levels slightly. Class I maintenance would apply to community parks — Woodward and Northgate — that would get the most frequent care. Class II — the neighborhood parks — would have less frequent mowing and a slight cutback in other maintenance such as litter pick up. Class III would be reserved for parks that have minimal use and would have even less maintenance done.
Other costly cutting strategies being considered include:
Identifying less used park facilities and considers closing them or selling them as surplus property. One example is the mini-park on Elm Street beneath the PG&E power transmission tower. Houx said there are adequate recreation facilities nearby — the Tidewater Bikeway and Library Park that has had playground equipment added in the last year plus other improvements coming this spring. The city could save $6,000 a year by ending its agreement with PG&E. The city pays PG&E some $6,000 a year in lease payments for the land. Other potential surplus property that could be sold is the two tennis courts on Center Street across from the library.
The department has cancelled contracts with landscape maintenance firms to care for the landscaping at 555 Industrial Park Drive purchased for new police headquarters, the grass and plants in the storm retention basin at the Stadium Retail Center where a fountain is located, and the landscaping along Milo Candini Drive in front of the Big League Dreams sports complex. Annual savings come to $50,000.
• Instead of doing maintenance on each city-owned tree in Manteca every five years, extend the cycle to eight years. Houx said it wouldn’t increase liability concerns and that eventually 1.5 positions could be eliminated. There were 8,629 street trees in Manteca as of June 30, 2007.
Green fees will be increased in the coming year. Houx noted that there is a $150,000 operating deficit and a $155,000 general fund infusion but even so the 122-acre golf course has some of the heaviest recreational use in Manteca. The city may consider going to passes that have special rates for 10 rounds of play instead of unlimited monthly play passes. It is one of the last remaining golf courses to have unlimited monthly passes.
Houx said there is no pressing deferred maintenance but eventually there is work that will have to be done.
The annual clubhouse debt service is paid off in 2010 to save $250,000 a year. Also, Houx noted the golf pro contract expires in 2012 giving the city the opportunity to improve its revenue position. Houx said even though that is over two years away, the city need to start preparing for negotiations and what they want to do in terms of how the golf course is operated.
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