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$89K for lobbyist from money that cant help city budget shortfall
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Just days before city management told 16 municipal workers – including six firefighters – that they would not have a job as of July 1 due to revenue shortfalls, a split Manteca City Council voted to spend $89,000 to renew a contract with a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm.

And while the money to pay for the lobbying services will not come from the distressed general fund that pays the salaries and benefits of the 16 workers and instead is from specific restricted accounts, it underscores the difficulty Manteca leaders will have in trying to explain cutbacks when it looks like they are spending money that could save positions and therefore help avoid a reduction in day-to-day services.

That can be done because the lobbying efforts will be on behalf of the city’s water and wastewater enterprise operations - that are supported 100 percent be users’ fees - and major transportation fees that are collected on growth for the purpose of expanding the city’s major street system and interchanges. And that $89,000 - as much as a council member may wish to use it to avoid laying off even just one city worker - can’t be used to do so due to strict state laws and court decisions that require money collected for a specific purpose to be spent for that purpose.

Being able to pay for a lobbyist when the city is dealing with the need to cut $4.2 million by July 1 to balance the budget is not the only thing that has drawn the ire of taxpayers.

“I see almost daily how Manteca is struggling with the money situation these days, but just yesterday I see Library Park all torn up,” Manteca resident Mark Voss wrote in an e-mail. “The city needs to reevaluate where they spend their money.  Let’s see, if I personally was in tough times would I add on to my house?  No! The city just doesn’t get it. Library Park was just the latest example of wasteful and wrong timing to spend.  I really don’t feel sorry for the city until they ‘get’.”

Library Park is another example of money being spent that can’t go to day-to-day services under state law. The $894,000 project is being funded from three non-general fund sources: fees collected on growth for community parks, redevelopment agency funds, and federal Community development Grant Block funds since the park serves nearby low-income neighborhoods as well as doubling a as community plaza.

Even so just like in Voss’ example where a house addition has to be maintained and upkeep paid such as energy bills once it is built, the city must do the same with the addition to Library Park.  A staff report has estimated it will impact the general fund will be around $20,000 in additional maintenance each year in terms of labor and materials. And without the money to hire additional staff, something has to be ignored elsewhere in the park system to maintain the Library Park expansion.

The City Council made a deliberate decision to move forward with Library Park and other infrastructure projects where the money can only be spent on that purpose. Their rationale is three-fold: The money was collected for that purpose and needs to be spent instead of being held onto. Construction costs are lower than they have been in years which mean the city will get more bang for the buck. And it will also create additional jobs for private sector workers which will help the economy a bit.

Even so, the $89,000 expenditure struck the wrong chord with Mayor Willie Weatherford who cast the only dissenting vote for the expenditure.

Weatherford believes they are paying a lobbying firm to do what Congressman Jerry McMerney should be doing - helping direct cities he represents to various federal programs designed to assist with specific local endeavors. He also noted that federal funds in many cases are drying up and that significantly reduces the chance of securing funds.

It is a point that was picked up on by council critic Fleenor Richards.

“What we are investing in is not a sure thing,” Richards told the council.

The rest of the council differed.

They pointed to the pivotal role Van Scoyoc played in successfully fighting the Census Bureau’s efforts to collapse Manteca into the same urbanized area as Stockton and Lodi. Had that happened it would have eliminated the city’s ability to use the federal transit formula for funding Manteca Transit operating exposes as it current does. The city would have lost $200,000 or more a year that would have gone instead to Stockton-Lodi.

City Manager Steve Pinkerton said the lobbying firm in the past year acting on Manteca’s behalf has:

•effectively fought to retain funding for a number of federal programs scheduled for significant cuts including those Manteca accesses for economic development, supplemental police funding, and flood control.

•alerted the city to opportunities to apply for federal grants. Pinkerton noted since earmarks are gone at the Congressional level for at least a year. It leaves the only access to federal funds through various agencies that are given lump sums by Congress to award to local projects and programs that meet specific criteria.

•monitored and advocated, when necessary, issues regarding storm water regulation, wastewater treatment discharge requirements, elimination of transit occupancy taxes, and public pension reform.

The 16 layoffs won’t be enough to bridge a $4.2 million general fund budget gap projected for the fiscal year that starts in 39 days. The city still has about $2.5 million to cut. The balance will be either through the remaining employees taking what averages out to be a 10 percent reduction in compensation, additional layoffs, or a combination of the two. How the rest is bridged will be decided basically by negotiations with each employee bargaining units.

Pinkerton said the decision on how that will be done will be made in the next few weeks as the city must have a balanced budget by July 1.