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Bonus bucks may allow 5th fire station to be built
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Credit the generosity of home builder Mike Atherton who volunteered to continue to pay bonus bucks for a period of time for new housing projects after other builders stopped doing so for making it possible for Manteca to break ground on its fifth fire station in the coming months.

Municipal staff is recommending dipping into bonus bucks — shorthand for development agreement fees collected to assure sewer connection certainty during the last residential building boom that started in 1999 — for a $1.7 million loan to allow work on the station planned for Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue to start in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The inter-fund loan that would be paid with interest as fire facility fees are collected from new growth is up for approval when the City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

Originally the city planned to start work on the fire station in 2021 when they had collected enough fire facility fees.

The council earlier this year after being informed construction inflation had bumped the price estimate by $1 million to $4.5 million and that there were now 2,500 plus homes in southeast Manteca outside of the city’s targeted five-minute response time for emergency responses to medical and fire calls directed staff to find a way to get the fire station built sooner.

City Manager Tim Ogden and Finance Director  Jeri Tejeda looked at various alternatives and saw tapping the bonus bucks for an inter-fund loan as the most fiscally effective move.

The bonus bucks account had been dwindling down as the city spent the money when Atherton in May of 2015 was seeking final approval of a development agreement for 356 homes in Woodward Park I and II now being built on 116 acres between Pillsbury Road and the future extension of Atherton Drive in southeast Manteca. The homes are all within a quarter mile of the future fire station site that Atherton and his partners provided to the city more than 14 years ago.

By the time 2015 rolled around most developers were no longer offering to pay bonus bucks on new projects given sewer allocation over multiple years was no longer a major issue. The big exception was Atherton Homes. 

Originally he offered to pay $5,000 in bonus bucks per home for the two neighborhoods. But then at the May 2015 meeting in a bid to sweeten the pot he surprised the council by offering to increase the bonus bucks to $7,500 per home.

When completed, the Woodward Park I and II neighborhoods will have paid the City of Manteca $2,670,000 in bonus bucks. That has allowed money to flow into the bonus bucks account to keep it a viable source of income for various projects given how the money is used is not restricted.

It was $14 million in bonus bucks that kept the city afloat from 2002 through 2011 when Manteca was failing to run day-to-day government by not spending more money in a given year than they were taking in.

Manteca since 2012 has been operating without a structure deficit meaning the cost of general services in a given year is covered and then some by revenue received.

The bonus bucks were ballyhooed in 1999 when they were adopted as a way to have growth provide amenities for all of Manteca to share. And they did to a degree. They paid to cover about 60 percent of the Union Road fire station’s cost, built the skate park, paid to install soccer lights at Woodward Park, and place traffic signals along the Tidewater Bikeway among other things. Bonus bucks also have been tapped for smaller endeavors such as paying for the Fourth of July fireworks.

Now that a number of growth fees such for transportation needs and parks have been significantly increased to provide for additional amenities, it is doubtful any developer would volunteer to pay more bonus bucks.

The 6,711-square-foot station design was done in template fashion so it can be used for future stations including the sixth station expected to be built in southwest Manteca in the general vicinity of the Woodward Avenue and McKinley Avenue intersection.

The station features a basic “L” design with four dorm rooms, two offices, living area, exercise area, task specific rooms and bays designed to accommodate larger apparatus than the standard fire engine company if need be.

A little over 18 months ago the station had a $2.7 million price tag. Construction engineers are forecasting costs for buildings such as fire stations and schools that must meet stringent earthquake standards will soar between 6 and 10 percent annually over the next two years. Not only is construction activity overall on the upswing but a number of school projects are now competing for qualified contractors throughout the state. That means waiting two years would push the project past the $6 million mark. A $1 million plus gain in costs would easily wipe out any new gains in the government building facilities fee fund the city would collect from growth during the same time frame.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email