Manteca Councilwoman Debby Moorhead has fielded complaints about park maintenance upkeep from residents living near St. Francis Park that feel the city is ignoring their neighborhood park.
Residents have told her that when it got to the point grass was spreading nearly a foot onto the sidewalk surrounding the park northwest of Louise Avenue and Union Road they took matters into their own hands and used a weed whacker to trim the grass.
Moorhead said in driving around Manteca she has noticed that not all city parks are maintained equally.
That, she found out at Tuesday’s special council meeting that provided elected leaders with a citywide update on municipal department operations, is by design.
In 2002 prior to the Great Recession that led to budget cuts, Parks & Recreation between 39 parks and the golf course had 273 acres to maintain with 41 department members employed at everything from maintaining parks to running recreation programs. In the year cuts were implemented — 2007 — there was 350 acres, 44 parks and 51 workers. Today there are 600 acres, 70 parks and 37 workers.
Workers dedicated specifically to park and golf course upkeep in 2002 had 9 acres per worker to handle. In 2007 it increased to 12 acres. Today it sits at 30 acres per dedicated worker with the acreage growing as parks are added in new neighborhoods. The national average for city parks and recreation operations is for one worker to maintain 10 acres.
Manteca in the last 16 years has increased acreage it maintains 120 percent and the number of parks by 79 percent while decreasing full-time Parks & Rec employees by 11 percent.
“We’ve looked at every possible way to find more ways to be efficient,” noted Kevin Fant who oversees the Parks & Recreation Department.
Manteca has pecking
order among 70 city
parks for maintenance
The city has been forced to assign a pecking order to how much attention the specific 70 parks receive. Neighborhood parks that are maintained with taxes assessed on nearby homes via community facilities districts and not the general fund will see a higher level of maintenance. That’s because money is collected specifically to maintain parks in a CFD — typically neighborhoods built in the past six years. The city now mandates new developments to form CFDs to cover neighborhood parks as well as common landscaping in subdivisions to avoid putting further strain on the general fund and in turn reducing maintenance work on non-CFD parks such as St. Francis Park even further.
Top priority for general fund parks goes to parks such as Woodward, Northgate, and Lincoln that are community parks that get a lot of use. Next are neighborhood parks that are used often for sports team practices. All other parks come after that
Of the 26 positions dedicated to maintenance, 4 are assigned to the 100-acre golf course, 15 to the 355 acres of parks, and 7 to the landscape maintenance district/CFD parks that cover 112 acres. The 7 positions funded by LMD/CFD taxes can only work on those areas covered by specific taxes. That means 7 non-golf course workers (paid by LMD/CFD taxes) take care of a fourth (112 acres) of the remaining acreage with 15 taking care of the remaining 355 acres.
Homeless issues often
pull away 2 parks workers on any given day
Making day-to-day maintenance an even bigger challenge in recent years has been an uptick in homeless related problems involving city parks ranging from the removal of illegal encampments to cleaning up drug paraphernalia. Fant said two workers typically spend a large chunk of their day working with the police department to handle homeless related issues that also include restroom maintenance requiring them to be pulled off other tasks.
The city has made it a priority to make sure homeless-related issues are addressed immediately.
Staffing related issues have also impacted the city street tree trimming efforts as well as mistletoe removal. Instead of operating on a scheduled aimed at dealing with every street and park tree once a year or so to address trimming issues, the city no does it on a complaint driven basis or addresses areas that are in the worst shape due to a manpower shortage.
The issue with staffing also impacts recreation programs. The city is running fee-based programs, the senior center, and recreation sports leagues with less fulltime personnel today with 81,450 residents compared back to 2002 when Manteca had 50,000 residents.
Fant said the staffing shortage has forced the city to continue with reduced service levels while at the same time increasing the backlog of deferred maintenance that becomes even more critical as facilities age.
The department’s workload continues to increase as growth adds new parks.
Manteca is also exploring what residents would like to see in an aquatics center, community center/gym and additional sports if city leaders opt to push for them through what could be an election for bonds in excess of $42 million. Those facilities, if they are built, would need staff to run and maintain them.
Fant noted minimum wage increases — the state minimum jumped to $12 and hour on Jan. 1 and will be at $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022 — is putting pressure on fee based programs.
He noted the city is being forced to raise fees realizing that may reduce participation.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com