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Fight over landscaping
At stake: $250K to preserve city jobs
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The following are upcoming stories on landscape maintenance districts in Manteca:
• Atherton Drive: Three different standards, same rules.
• How it all got started.
• The $1 million a year endeavor.

The landscape is changing.

Four years ago, not a single protest was heard when the City of Manteca formed landscape maintenance districts to keep the cost of upkeep on sound wall landscaping and associated improvements on the back of home owners in specific subdivisions instead of shifting the expense to taxpayers.

Now an attempt to form a landscape maintenance district (LMD) at Del Webb at Woodbridge post-mortem – a council policy adopted years ago requires the districts to be in place before a single lot is sold – is raising the rancor of many of the 400 households that have bought into the 1,402-lot restricted age community in North Manteca so far.

The argument by residents is simple: Why is it going to cost a minimum $47.92 a year per household to simply maintain existing landscape medians on Union Road and Airport Way adjoining Del Webb – including other issues such as graffiti abatement and changing burned out street light bulbs?

Del Webb residents such as Rick Arucan and Bill Goodwin contend the Del Web homeowners association can do it for a lot cheaper. They favor a course of action that the City Council go ahead and form the district but leave it dormant – no assessment – and let the homeowners association handle the maintenance. If it doesn’t work to the city’s satisfaction, the council can always activate the district and order assessments levied. Pulte Homes – developer of Del Webb – is currentlyhandling the maintenance.

Formation of the LMD was authorized with 85.4 percent of the parcels represented in balloting being affirmative and the balance against.

What happened at Tuesday’s council meeting, though, could have major reverberations and might even undermine municipal efforts to save parks division jobs while at the same time potentially lowering the overall cost of government.

LMD may yield $250,000 to help bridge city deficit
The reason has everything to do with how the city currently is planning to tap into $250,000 paid to contractors to maintain almost three dozen districts supported by annual assessments to help cover the $11.3 million deficit projected in the general fund for the fiscal year starting July 1. The city would assign municipal park workers to do the work with the proviso that there would be no reduction in the quality of maintenance

Mayor Willie Weatherford may have opened the door to seriously challenge the city’s current strategy as the best course for the pocketbook of municipal residents.

During questioning about forming the Union Ranch LMD that serves Del Webb, Weatherford was told the city intends to do the maintenance itself and not put it out to bid in accordance to its strategy to bridge the looming municipal deficit.

A brief exchange pursued that essentially had Parks and Recreation Director Steve Houx saying if the people paying for the services specifically on the Union Ranch LMD – the city – could “fire” the parks division if they weren’t satisfied with the work.

Weatherford asked how competitive the city was prompting Houx to explain internal studies show they come within 5 percent of the private contractors.

That, in turn, prompted Weatherford to infer that the city should engage in competitive bidding with contractors to take care of the landscape maintenance districts.

That could open the proverbial can of worms forcing the city to prove with each and every one of the nearly three dozen LMDs that they are the lowest responsible bidder.

The last time the city looked at competitive proposals to run a segment of the municipal operations was in the late 1990s when the city took a look to see if private forms could run the wastewater treatment plant at a lower cost. That bid process found three private sector vendors wanted more to operate the plant than the city was currently spending.

The LMDs are currently put out to bid each year. There are only two firms that have actively bid on them due to the requirements. The two firms effectively split the current LMDs between them.

Instead of simply turning the LMDs over to the city to perform the work, a competitive bid process would require the city to bid on each LMD against private contractors each year as is the current process. The changing economy also could bring out lower bids from other reforms that may have passed on LMD bidding before. It is a trend found in other segments of the maintenance and construction sectors.

If the city commits to putting the LMDs in the hands of the lowest competitive bidder that maintains the landscaping properly, it means the city would have to bid on each and every one – and submit the lowest bid - in order to get the work.