Spending money to save money is a strategy that is coming under fire from some quarters as Manteca leaders struggle with whittling away a projected $11.3 million deficit expected to materialize in the fiscal year starting July 1.
They are also being hammered for not making symbolic moves by not spending money from accounts unaffected by the general fund deficit and can’t be legally used for any other purpose than what it was collected for originally. Councilman Vince Hernandez at a meeting last month said it would further hurt the economy by not spending restricted money for a needed piece of equipment if there are adequate funds especially when the end goal is to make the municipal workforce more efficient. Labor and related benefits account for 85 percent of the general fund budget.
Such was the case when the City Council last week authorized spending the last of $825,000 budgeted to buy three replacement trucks that will completely automate Manteca’s waste collection truck fleet.
The trucks are not only nearing the end of their lifespan but they have diesel engines that no longer comply with the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Control District’s stricter standards.
The money for the trucks comes from the solid waste enterprise fund and can only be used for solid waste operations. All revenue for the funds comes from the garbage collection fees assessed residents and businesses on a monthly basis that haven’t been raised in years despite increased landfill and fuel costs.
The reason this has been possible, according to a memo to the council issued by Deputy Public Works Director Jim Stone, was a decision years ago by the council to go to fully automated collection.
Fully automated trucks allow drivers to do a larger number of homes during a shift. Semi-automated trucks – of which the trucks being replaced are – required the driver to get out at each stop to manually handle each container. It was an improvement over the need for two-man crews but it still wasn’t the most efficient way to provide the service.
The semi-automated trucks also didn’t eliminate all injuries.
Now that the city has automated trucks that can function even in alleys, Stone said the city is “able to collect all routes as quickly and safely as possible.”
“This keeps our collection costs down so that we can provide recycling, community clean-up and other services while maintaining very competitive rates,” Stone pointed out in the memo.
Staff looked at alternative fuel systems but determined the cost of installing a new fueling system for the trucks was too high. Diesel hybrids were considered but the technology was at least a year away.
The city also got flack at Tuesday’s council meeting for continuing to buy trucks from one source – McNeilus Truck & Manufacturing Co.
Public Works Director Mark Houghton said due to the hydraulic arms that periodically get broken that it is quicker and more efficient for municipal vehicle maintenance crews to work on the same type of truck instead of learning other systems that also require different parts.
The trucks are expected to help the city continue avoiding the need to increase solid waste collection rates for at least the near future.