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Can Manteca afford a DC lobbyist?
Manteca leaders wrestle with $80,600 expenditure
Federal concerns about paying for river flooding damage such as what occurred in 1997 in Manteca is behind a move to significantly expand mandatory flood insurance requirements. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Mayor Willie Weatherford believes $80,600 to retain a lobbyist representing the City of Manteca’s interests in the nation’s capital is a complete waste of money.

The mayor would rather see the money go to hiring another police officer or restoring a position in other city departments that are struggling to move projects forward and keep up with routine tasks due to cutbacks.

That’s why he’s not likely to support a proposal tonight to renew a contract with Van Scoyoc Associates to provide what a staff report calls “federal legislative advocacy services.”

But even if the mayor manages to get a majority of the council to agree with him, Manteca won’t be able to use the money to hire another police officer unless it is a law enforcement position devoted exclusively to cattle rustling and agricultural thefts.

That’s because City Manager Karen McLaughlin is proposing tapping the city’s Agricultural Preservation Development Agreement fee account to fund the one-year contract. It isn’t much of a stretch to use the funds that are no longer collected. That’s because the two biggest items on the plate when it comes to Manteca’s federal agenda is to prevent draconian flood insurance law requirements from being put in place that could cost property owners in Manteca $17.5 million annually in mandatory premiums in addition to developing 417 acres the city bought along Hays Road south of Manteca as an agricultural crop site using treated municipal wastewater.

That means spending the $80,600 would not impact the stressed general fund that covers the expenditures needed for day-to-day services such as police and fire protection.

Weatherford - even without the legal ability to put the $80,600 indentified toward more pressing civic needs - questions the effectiveness of spending money on a lobbyist when earmarks no longer exist.

Council members Debby Moorhead and Steve DeBrum have made a case in the past that it is money well spent if the city can succeed in doing what the City of Sacramento did and successfully lobby bureaucrats and federal politicians to be excluded from any expansion of mandatory flood insurance.

Moorhead has made it clear it is a top priority for her to avoid Manteca residents and businesses from getting assessed millions annually for flood insurance even if their property isn’t in a flood plain due to federal concerns of what could happen if New Melones Reservoir failed and caused catastrophic levee failure.

DeBrum on Monday said that while he in the past has backed hiring a lobbyist that he was “going to wait and hear what everyone has to say.”

DeBrum does see value in fighting new federal regulations that would go “overboard” in terms of controlling storm drain run-off into the Delta and flood insurance requirements that could add millions to the annual cost of doing business and living in Manteca.

He also noted that while earmarks are gone for now, the transportation bill still has opportunities to secure funds for local transit projects that have a regional impact. DeBrum added that a lobbying firm could be instrumental in securing supplement federal funding for more police officers if that federal grant program is made available again.

“I know it sounds like a copout but I’ve wrestled with this one over the weekend,” said Councilman John Harris who has indicated he is likely to support the request when it comes up at tonight’s 7 o’clock meeting at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

That’s because Harris has significant concerns as well about the move in the nation’s capitol to make flood insurance mandatory throughout any community that is within a designated 100-year flood plain even on property that has never flooded.

He added that by this time next year, though, he could go over to the “no” side if the effort isn’t effective.

The biggest return from the initial year in 2010 that the city retained the lobbying firm was 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 currently does. The city would have lost $200,000 or more a year that would have gone instead to Stockton-Lodi.

When the council - with Weatherford dissenting - approved the current year’s contract - then City Manager Steve Pinkerton outlined various pluses the lobbying firm provided for the city. They included:

•effectively fighting 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.

•alerting the city to opportunities to apply for federal grants. 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.

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

The city has taken the stance that it makes more sense in some cases such as storm water to fight increased federal regulations instead of trying to seek federal government help to pay for a portion of the cost of implementing new mandates and then being forced to look elsewhere to fund the balance of the federal mandate.