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Mayor critical of fire staffing & lack of engine for new fire station being built
Manteca firefighters are shown at the scene of a house fire. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca’s fifth fire station being built at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue is targeted to open sometime in 2020.

The fact it will likely open with a two-man rescue squad and not a three-man fire engine strikes Mayor Ben Cantu as being a repeat of the 1980s debacle when the city built the Louise Avenue station and had to let it sit for more than a year unopened because they lacked the money to hire additional firefighters. 

The mayor insists the station needs to open with a new $600,000 fire engine and have full staffing that would require nine firefighters at an annual cost in excess of $1.3 million. He considers anything less than that to be poor planning and the city not managing its finances will enough to make sure Manteca residents have all of the services they need.

The new fire station was an example he used to underscore his argument Manteca adopts “starvation budgets” without the needed revenue to provide services.

Cantu’s contention it is poor fiscal management because essentially fees and taxes haven’t been raised enough to cover what “residents need and want.”

“Simply balancing the budget doesn’t meet community needs  . . . I’m here because of that. This community is tired (of how the city is run).”

Comparing the mid-1980s to today, though, is akin to comparing a lime to a watermelon.

Nearly 40 years ago the city was teetering on the edge financially with just over $1,000 in its general fund reserve as it was being swamped by growth.

Today the city has $13.3 million in a comparative reserve that sets aside funds for emergencies and economic downturns. Fees on growth are in place although Cantu is correct in that some haven’t been updated in a timely fashion and some fees may not exist for specific amenities that he says the community wants such as a new library and a new city hall. 

But the decision  to go with the station even if the city wasn’t able to staff it initially with a three-man engine 24/7 and go ahead with a 2-man rescue squad such as they did to initially open the Lathrop Road fire station near Del Webb in north Manteca was rooted in being fiscally responsible.

The previous council decided to go ahead with building the new station when they realized the fees they were collecting were being eaten up by construction inflation. 

In late 2016 the station had a $2.7 million price tag. Then in 2017 construction engineers were forecasting costs for buildings such as fire stations and schools that must meet stringent earthquake standards would soar between 6 and 10 percent annually. Not only was construction activity overall on the upswing at the time but a number of school projects were competing for qualified contractors throughout the state that are capable of meeting the state’s rigid seismic standards for building. That meant waiting two to three years when the city had more fees collected would have pushed the project past the $6 million mark. A $1 million plus gain in costs easily wipe out any new gains in the government building facilities fee fund the city would collect from growth during the same time frame.

The $4.5 million contract awarded to CT Brayton & Sons that is breaking ground on the project this summer depleted the fire facilities account of money collected at the time in fire fees in new growth and then some. To avoid generating any general fund debt — the city has none at the moment — $1.7 million was borrowed from the city’s development fee account where the bonus bucks that were collected for sewer allocation certainty are held. The money will be repaid to the development agreement fee account with interest as growth fees are collected. The project wiped out the $2.8 million left in the government facilities fees account after city drew it down to build the animal shelter and vehicle maintenance facility in recent years.

The council also believed it wasn’t wise to wait given roughly 2,800 homes in southeast Manteca were outside of the optimum 5 minute response time. Since 60 percent of calls are medical related and 5 percent are a variety of fire calls — the rest are public assist/mutual aid, false alarm, and hazardous materials — the council believed the rescue squad was a prudent way to open the fifth station.

Just like with the Lathrop Road station, the previous council’s game plan was for the Woodward Avenue/Atherton Drive station to be staffed with a three-man fire engine as it became fiscally feasible. The current staffing of 48 firefighters would allow the new station to initially open with the two-man rescue squad.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email