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Manteca: Collateral damage?
Schwarzeneggers move could put city on financial ropes
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He’ll be back and when that happens it may force Manteca’s elected leaders to declare a municipal fiscal emergency.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger along with the California Legislature have repeatedly borrowed money from local governments over the past few years to deal with the never ending state deficits. Now that it looks like all of the ballot measure designed to put another patch on California’s financial hemorrhaging will go down to defeat Tuesday, the governor has declared he intends to “borrow” another $2 billion from local government  by suspending provisions of a voter approved initiative that prohibits him from doing so unless he declares a fiscal emergency.

Such a move has been projected to cost Manteca at least $1.12 million in the fiscal year starting July 1. That means Manteca – as well as a number of other California cities and counties – will be collateral damage for the state’s budget crisis. The state has taken in excess of $20 million from Manteca’s coffers alone since 1991 with the bulk of that in property taxes due the redevelopment agency.
Should that happen, city leaders warned during a budget workshop Thursday that it will push them over to the brink and force them to join 44 other California cities and declare a fiscal emergency as well.

Manteca Finance Director Suzanne Mallory said she expects Manteca will have plenty of company as the latest threat from the state to cover their financial mess by siphoning local tax dollars is anticipated to push numerous counties and cities to the brink.

Manteca had managed to whittle an initial deficit projected at $11.3 million six months ago down to $2.5 million primarily with spending cuts and freezing positions as well as enticing higher paying workers to retire early.  As recently as two weeks ago, city leaders were cautiously optimistic that they could make it through 2009-10 without further cutbacks if additional retirements expected to occur in the coming 14 months went forward plus if property and sales tax revenue outlooks brightened.

Now in light of the governor’s intent to again “borrow” from local government to bridge a new state deficit anticipated to exceed $23 billion it appears almost certain that Manteca will not be able to bridge the gap without severe budget cutbacks which translates into layoffs.

Since labor costs are the biggest part of the budget, the declaration of a fiscal emergency might allow the city to temporarily suspend provisions of contracts including pay raises and other benefits. The contract that is the most problematic due to shrinking revenue is that of the firefighters since it contains a minimum staffing level of three firefighters per engine.

Manteca’s leaders – in light of the governor’s plans as well as property tax reductions expected to come from August reassessments – are going to operate the city on a continuing resolution after July 1. That means no new budget plan will be in effect and spending patterns now in place will continue until a realistic budget can be adopted in August or September.

“Property tax and sales tax represent about 50 percent of our general fund revenue,” City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted explaining why trying to piece together a budget before July 1 would be an exercise in futility.