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Emerging tale of 2 (types) of parks
Higher level of care of those within LMD
The level of care has dropped in city parks such as Woodward but not in those within landscape maintenance districts. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Patches of grass around the perimeter of Woodward Park are yellow these days.

It is in stark contrast to a handful of neighborhood parks that are part of landscape maintenance districts (LMD).

The reason is simple. The city is obligated to maintain a high standard of care at a park within such a district as property owners are being assessed directly for their upkeep.

Manteca slashed staffing assigned to park maintenance almost by a third in 2009 when city revenues started falling off severely. Three maintenance workers were assigned 100 percent of their time to the landscape maintenance districts (LMD) while a lead park worker and an irrigation technician each were assigned halftime.

The city, in turn, terminated contracts with private landscape firms that had been handling the LMD work under municipal supervision.

The move to take over 23 LMDs in existence on July 1, 2009 saved $350,000 annually from the general fund and essentially protected four jobs by shifting them to LMDs.

The city also:

•Slashed water use by more than 10 percent which in turn is saving money.

•Convinced the consultant that does the statutory work for financial oversight to lower his costs going from about $100,000 for all of the districts down to $34,000 a year. It included a three-year contract with no increase.

•Improved response time to graffiti and other vandalism as city workers are available daily instead of weekly.

•Installed devices to remotely monitor water that will detect breaks in lines and shut systems down so areas aren’t flooded overnight when a problem occurs. The same system also alerts city crews of problems plus allows remotely changing watering scheduling depending upon the weather.

•Replaced perennial problem plantings with new shrubs and trees to eliminate the potential for interference to power lines and sound walls.

• Virtually eliminated gopher and rodent problems.

•Addressed water coverage issues eliminating brown spots.

The move also meant the maintenance levels in the city’s nearly 50 neighborhood parks as well as three community parks the city maintains were reduced. The 30-acre Big League Dreams sports complex, though city owned, is maintained by BLD. The arrangement effectively helps the city avoid $17 million in maintenance costs over a 35-year period.

Some may question what essentially are two tiers of neighborhood parks. Parks within an LMD are mowed more often and enjoy a high level of maintenance work is performed. City leaders have noted they have an obligation to perform the level of maintenance that the people in the districts are paying for the city to provide.

The level of upkeep for parks within LMDs is part of the debate underway for the formation of such a district in the Union Ranch neighborhood northeast of Lathrop and Union roads.

The City Council tonight will conduct a hearing for the possibility of forming an LMD for the Union Ranch Park. Actual work on the 7.7-acre park and a 3.3-acre linear park will start later this year. Assessments - should the district be formed - would first be collected for maintenance starting in 2012. The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

The tally of the parcel owners’ vote is scheduled to take place tonight as well.

City staff - at the council’s direction - re-evaluated the charges proposed for the Union Ranch LMD. They ended up reducing costs by 28 percent. It will now cost $358.78 per parcel each year to maintain the park improvements and common landscaping compared to $496.32 per year originally.

While most of the financial burden would fall on parcel owners within the neighborhood, indirect costs such as street light utilities, administrative support, and the storm drain pump maintenance would be covered by the general fund.