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Impound & tow: New city cash cow?
Manteca looking for ways to bridge 2009-10 budget deficit
Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford, left, and Fire Chief Chris Haas share a light moment during Thursday’s council retreat. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca may balance its budget in part by towing cars.

Manteca Police order the towing and impounding of upwards of 14 vehicles a day. Sometimes those vehicles have a mandatory impound of 30 days and can cost in excess of $1,000 for the owners to retrieve.

“We (the city) have plenty of space available to store vehicles,” Police Chief Dave Bricker said.

Presently the city farms tow calls out to various private towing firms. Bricker noted there are times where officers will wait for over an hour for a tow truck to show up. As the system now works, the private tow firms charge and collect the storage as well as towing fees. If the city took over towing, it wouldn’t change its policy that is allowed under state law. There are cities that don’t impound all vehicles they are allowed to do under the law.

The cars that are impounded typically are seizied from those driving on either a suspended license or without a license or else intoxicated drivers. State law allows the cars to be impounded for up to 30 days allowing the tow company to collect both the daily impound charge — around $30 — plus towing costs before the driver can get their vehicle back.

It is just one of the moves city leaders are exploring in a bid to bridge a budget deficit projected to now come in at between $10 million and $12 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.

City Manager Steve Pinkerton at Thursday’s City Council retreat that took place at Chez Shari at the municipal golf course indicated cost saving moves already being put in place will cover up to half the amount of the deficit.

Bricker was among the department heads that outlined for the City Council steps they are taking to reduce expenditures, generate revenue, or increase efficiency.

The police chief, though, stressed that any revenue the department could go after is either to generate funds to cover costs of particular services or take over an existing function that is farmed out such as towing providing it pencils out for the city.

“We want to be crusaders not bounty hunters,” Bricker said.

Among the steps the department is taking or options they are exploring include:

• Charging the City of Lathrop more for use of animal control shelter.
Lathrop contracts animal control shelter. Lathrop pays for 17 percent of the cost of the shelter but actually uses 26 percent of the shelter space. Bricker noted another option could be to drop the contract with Lathrop to increase space for Manteca animals. Such a move would delay having to build an expensive replacement animal control shelter. That way the city could place a portable building for office use and remodel where offices are in the present shelter for additional kennels.

• Residential burglary alarm response charges.
Bricker is proposing either requiring residential burglary alarms to be verified first by the alarm company before officers are dispatched or else start charging for each false alarm response. There are 3,500 residential burglary alarms that the department responds to each year. In those, 98.5 percent are false alarms. Each call typically ties up two officers for 26 minutes.

• Possibly leasing vehicles
The department is exploring the use of leasing instead of buying police vehicles to see if they can save money.

• Rethinking support for community events.
The department spends $100,000 in overtime costs for a police presence at the Crossroads Street Fair, Pumpkin Fair and Christmas parade among other non-profit community endeavors. They could delegate more of the work to department volunteers.

• Pumping new life into Neighborhood Watch.
Bricker said the Neighborhood Watch effort has been allowed to go a bit to the wayside. He believes refocusings attention to it will help reduce neighborhood crime and department costs.

• Establishing Volunteers In Policing.
Bricker said the department is getting ready to add a program for volunteers between the ages of 21 and 50 called Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS).

“It fills the gap for volunteer opportunities,” Bricker said in reference to the Police Explorers for youth and Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) for those 50 and older.

Bricker said it is impossible to convey how effective volunteers — especially SHARPs – are in delivering services and doing tasks the department simply wouldn’t be able to do because of manpower and staffing.

• Adopt a Sound Wall.
The department is also exploring setting up an Adopt a Sound Wall program to encourage neighborhood residents to step forward to keep sound walls graffiti free.

The police department accounts for 40 percent of the general fund budget and spends just shy of $16 million a year. Overall, personnel salaries and benefits represent 91 percent of the department’s budget.

There are 10 Measure M public safety police officers and two police officers paid for by the public safety endowment fund set up by developer. There are 128 personnel positions authorized of which 12 are vacant including three sworn officers. Leaving those positions vacant can save $850,000 to $1 million.

Manteca Unified School District pays $205,000 toward five school resource officers.

Other observations made by Bricker.

• If Lathrop High closes and students go back to Sierra High, daytime crime will likely go up due to the large influx of out-of-town students. Such crime has dropped each time out-of-town students such as from Weston Ranch and Lathrop started going to schools in their own communities. It doesn’t mean that Manteca teens don’t commit crimes, just that by importing more high school aged students adds to the potential for daytime crime.

• Measure M revenues are lagging. That means if the remaining five police officers promised under the voter approved half-cent sales tax plan are hired as proposed, there would be a $1.5 million deficit. Bricker said the department is postponing filling those positions until revenues pick up again. That leaves 10 officers under Measure M with revenues about $500,000 less than projected.

• Booking fees paid to the county are now at $30,000. That could end up costing the city $88,000 more than projected if reimbursement from the state stops.