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Dark storm clouds ahead & Manteca resilient workers

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POSTED October 22, 2009 1:50 a.m.
You pass them on the street every day – municipal street crews, parks workers, firefighters, police and others.

They make up a group of 350 people responsible for providing municipal services for 67,000 people in Manteca.

We count on them. Without them, clean drinking water wouldn’t flow, our garbage would pile up, our toilets wouldn’t flush, storm water would stand in our neighborhoods, parks would be overrun with weeds, traffic lights wouldn’t function, criminals would control the community, and many more of us would lose property to fires and loved ones to heart attacks.

They are the ones whom we are relying on to keep the municipal ship upright and afloat in an economic tsunami that is just appearing on the horizon when it comes to government services. City workers understand all too well what their neighbors and friends have gone through in the past two years as unemployment is now at a near record high of 13.5% as property values have plummeted due to the foreclosure mess dragging down the economy with it.

They are doing their job knowing the economic seas are going to get rougher for local government due to a wide array of factors including projections the public sector will take up to five years to bounce back as it is heavily reliant on being able to generate tax from the private sector to the fact Gov. Ali Baba and the 120 Thieves in the California Legislature can’t resist stealing instead of cutting and reorganizing the state bureaucracy.

The numbers on the horizon are ominous. Manteca is expected to squeak through the current fiscal year on the strength of spending down $3.7 million in reserves plus another $2.2 million of principal and interest from an unrestricted building tax that had been collected since 1994 on single family homes built in Manteca with the intent of using it to pay for over-sizing of infrastructure.

Dark days are ahead. Manteca is staring down the need to come up with $5.9 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year to avoid further cutbacks in services and layoffs. And not that it should make you feel better, contrary to some of the saber rattling in the past few weeks by those not happy with police layoffs, Manteca appears to be in somewhat better shape than many neighboring cities.

The reason has everything to do with Manteca’s timing at securing major regional retail that ultimately will drain sales tax revenue from other jurisdictions to benefit Manteca.

There is a solid chance sales tax receipts will rebound in the coming months and that property tax come Jan. 1, 2010 will either stay flat or have a much slighter decline than this year.

Carefully crafted development recovery cost fees could generate between $2.5 million and $4 million in the coming months. The trick, of course, is to get as close to 100 percent cost recovery without killing the private sector that lays the golden tax dollars.

And since there are legal tests to meet, the fees won’t be in place for awhile. They should be in place though, in time to count on full 12 months worth of revenue for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2010.

That could, if all goes well, leave Manteca with a $1.7 million shortfall to cover. With a little luck sales tax gains will cover property tax losses.  If the recovery is underway, the city in such a striation could do something borderline fool-hardy and dip into its emergency reserves nearly depleting it to keep service levels from falling further.

There is, however, an unpredictable wild card. The state could again cannibalize local government to keep from changing their spending ways up in Sacramento. That could happen in the next eight months effectively forcing municipal layoffs. However, even with all of the damage the state has already inflicted by swiping local money and imposing costly regulations without funding them on local jurisdictions there is a chance if the state tries to live within its means like cities are doing now that Manteca might be able to make it through 2010-11 by the proverbial skin of its teeth.

Knowing this, Manteca’s dedicated workers keep plugging along.

They personify resilience that is part of the American fabric.

It is what got this nation through the Great Depression and it’ll get us through the Great Recession.
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