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Lack of funding dogs storm drains

Expense cuts into shrinking general fund

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Lack of funding dogs storm drains

Cotta Park – at Mission Ridge Drive and Tahoe Street – fills up with water during a heavy storm.

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED September 29, 2009 4:24 a.m.

Manteca residents received a tax cut in 2001.

The City Council – under the leadership of former Mayor Carlon Perry – opted to drop the $2.35 a month municipal utility tax on garbage, sewer, and water bills.

That ended up reducing general fund revenue by $690,000 for 2002. It cost the general fund at the time $1.4 million in refunds they made to ratepayers.

The tax was repealed after the legality of the utility users’ tax was questioned. It was adopted on Nov. 20, 1989 as a way to fund storm drainage system improvements and maintenance to alleviate street flooding, particularly in the downtown district.

The tax was legal when it was adopted but shifting court opinions determined such taxes needed to be put to the vote of the people when everyone had to pay it and it wasn’t for a specific service such as water or sewer where fees could be adopted by council votes.

Most other cities when faced with a new court ruling simply opted to take their case to the voters to have them reaffirm the legality of the tax by voting it back in.

Manteca’s council went directly to declaring it illegal and ordering refunds.

If the tax were in place today it would generate more than half of the $1.7 million the city needs to avoid laying off 54 municipal employees – including police and firefighters.

Critics like to blame the council at the time for caving in to concerns of a lawsuit and not asking voters to decide whether to retain the tax.
However, the issue of funding storm drain improvements has not been addressed in the last eight years meaning that the storm maintenance and upgrade of the existing system is a drain on the general fund budget.

Manteca still has seven years of payments on the original loan back in 1989 to make that totals more than $1 million. That debt repayment - $223,000 a year – plus ongoing maintenance – took a $746,000 bite out of the general fund. The utility tax – which would have brought in $900,000 this year if it were still in place – would have covered that tab plus have money to go toward over $1 million in upgrades and replacement of aging infrastructure that staff recommended but wasn’t funded.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” noted Public Works Director Mark Houghton. “We have a fairly good system in place but some of it is aging.”
Aging equipment includes pumps – critical to the flow of water – that wear out as well as some storm pipes that are either inadequate or have pipes with issues.

The system works by tying a series of storm retention basins together through pipes. The basins serve as reservoirs during heavy periods of rainfall filling with water. Pumps are then reversed as the storm drain system has capacity to receive more water and the basins are lowered.

The entire system is made possible through an interconnect with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District canals that take the runoff to the French Camp Slough then to the San Joaquin River.

Municipal staff — acting on a City Council directive 14 months ago  – re-examined how they are doing business to find a more efficient way to provide services without reducing the overall quality of service.

The Public Works Department has presented a new strategy for storm water disposal south of the Highway 120 Bypass that is expected to save substantial money which in turn will reduce the cost of building housing.

Currently, the city standards call for sending part of the run-off away from the river to a pump station to take it north of the Highway 120 Bypass and dump it into the French Camp Slough. The rest of it goes into South San Joaquin Irrigation District drains.

It is also based on having water discharged from various park storm retention basins within 48 hours. That requires much larger pipes that add to the cost.

The new strategy eliminates one of two pump stations — which effectively cuts energy costs in half — and sends the water to the San Joaquin River at a point near Wetherbee Lake.

It also calls for a water discharge rate of 96 hours from storm retention basins instead of 48 hours. That represents the longest accepted maximum time that water would sit in a retention basin before it is released into a series of underground pipes and eventually into the San Joaquin River.

Currently, it is rare for water to stand in any retention basin more than 24 hours.

In order to meet the 100-year flood protection standard that will remain unchanged, the city may have to alter future retention basins to either make them deeper or larger.

The problem, however, is how to fund improvements that can’t legally be charged off to growth.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail

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