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Employees help Manteca avoid Stocktons quagmire
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It took less than four minutes.

Not one voice was raised in anger. There was no angst about what would happen next.

Manteca’s leaders passed a $97.5 million budget for the current fiscal year on Tuesday night.

It was in stark contrast to the financial meltdown drama unfolding 20 miles up the road in Stockton. San Joaquin County’s largest city is looking at a $20 million budget deficit that could easily double if drastic steps aren’t taken. The police union is buying billboard space alluding to crime getting worse if more cuts to their ranks are made.

Stockton has an estimated $450 million in unfunded retirement costs that threaten to send the city into bankruptcy.

The financial mess has put Stockton on the national map from network television to the Wall Street Journal with the type of publicity no city wants

So how did Manteca avoid teetering on the edge given it is literally in the heart of the epicenter of the foreclosure capital of the United States that triggered Stockton’s municipal budget downfall?

Part of the answer was provided at Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting.

One was approval of the final detail of a series of compensation concessions made by city employee bargaining groups that will save the city $4.2 million through June 2005. Hammering out those details is one reason why the municipal budget was adopted 277 days late for the current fiscal year. Salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent of the critical general fund budget that covers day-to-day municipal services such as police and fire protection.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin as well as the council give credit to municipal employees who took a pragmatic approach back in 2009 when the city laid all of the cards on the table. That’s when city leaders noted they had an $11.3 million deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year that would swell to $15.9 million by the 2013-14 fiscal year if spending patterns in place at the time were not changed.

Employees worked with city management to combine jobs as positions were left unfilled when people retired. They also made salary concessions by agreeing to go on unpaid furloughs and reducing compensation. Combined with the contracts that just were recently  re-negotiated through mid-2015, a typical municipal employee has forgone close to 30 percent of compensation that includes what they actually were receiving and what the city had agreed to in a four-year contract.

Part of the budget shortfall was also bridged by tapping reserves in order to balance the budget for the past four years.

The council on Tuesday also took a step toward improving Manteca’s long-term financial outlook by putting in place a two-tier retirement program. It essentially means when new employees are hired they will have to work longer and retire later in order to access their full retirement benefits.

Manteca was also helped by the fact developers were able to build and sell more than 300 homes annually for the past three years. That is more each year than all of the other new homes sold in every other jurisdictions in San Joaquin County combined.