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What is Chicken Little going to do when the sky really is falling?
jason campbell
Jason Campbell

I’m firmly convinced that no amount of logic or explanation will move people’s opinion on Measure Z one way or the other.

In the end, they’re either going to vote for it because they trust that local officials have their best interests at heart, or they’re going to vote against it – and loudly rail against the idea – because they don’t.

It really quite as simple as that.

But regardless of whether voters agree to cough up an extra penny on every dollar that they spend, the problems that Measure Z is intended to help curb aren’t going anyway just because people reject a sales tax increase.

While it’s a rather bleak outlook, I’m willing to bet that the issues are only going to get worse if voters reject the appeal outright and nothing else is done to stop the bleeding.

I’ll be the first to admit that the city probably didn’t handle this the way that they should have – which was spending more time educating the public on the merits of such an undertaking, and potentially even hiring a firm versed in these sorts of challenges to qualm any fears that people may have.

Yes, the use of consultants in municipal government is a bit cliché and often wasteful, but this is one area where I think that the money would have been well-spent. Sometimes a PR campaign and oodles of transparency is exactly what is needed.

Also, there hasn’t been any sort of clear definition as to what sort of oversight vehicles exist for Measure Z, and what specifically the money will – and won’t – be spent on.

Lathrop, for example, has an independent oversight committee appointed by the council that helps steer the way the money they collect in additional sales tax is spent – which doesn’t fully eliminate the appearance that this is nothing more than a slush fund for local politicians, but it certainly diminishes that.

The message from City Hall in this case should have been that something like that was going to be place – and that local people were going to be asked to help have a hand in creating the parameters rather than just leaving it all up to the council.

Oversight is always a good thing.

If you take all of that off the table, however, the core issue still exists – the city doesn’t have the money it needs to do the sorts of things that its residents expect. There isn’t enough money to hire the number of requisite police officers, or upgrade fire department apparatus, or meet other municipal goals that people expect when they live in a community like Manteca.

And, beyond that, I don’t see any way that the current levels of service are going to continue after June of next year unless something is done to stave off the cuts that are coming because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

People aren’t traveling like they used to. They aren’t driving like they used to. Those that commuted before are now allowed to work from home, which means that the trips to the gas station once or twice every week are now more like once or twice a month, and the revenue that the city generated from those sales is now diminished.

People didn’t travel to Yosemite in record numbers from the Bay Area like they did in each previous year meaning that the restaurants and gas stations in Manteca that usually get that traffic went without. Tournaments at Big League Dreams and Woodward Park were down for a while, which means that people weren’t paying all of the TOT taxes that come from hotel stays.

And all of those things add up to what will likely be a budget shortfall – and that’s not taking into account that the State of California will not be in any position to backfill those shortage for the exact same reasons.

While I understand that people are wary of trusting politicians with their money, I personally am wary of the city having to cut the number of police officers or firefighters because they just don’t have enough money in the budget to pay for them. Yes, there are reserves in place, but once those are gone, they are gone, and it could be a while before the city is able to replenish them.

Beyond all of that, it’s apparent that some of the most vocal voices about Measure Z aren’t being vocal out of a sense of principle, but out of self-preservation – afraid that an extra penny on every dollar will impact their personal business and they won’t be making quite as much money as they did before.

To that I ask this – do you think people will be coming here in droves to buy houses when the crime rate goes up? Will they be worried about buying recreational vehicles when it takes 10 minutes for a fire engine to arrive at your door when somebody calls 911 because a loved one is having a heart attack? How about when aging streets can’t be repaired leading to an even worse situation than the one that we already have?

All of those are real possibilities in the near future as the ramifications of the Coronavirus come into sharper focus between now and the end of the fiscal year.

This isn’t about the actions of a mayor that may have detractors, or a council that is misunderstood, or even a city manager that is being blamed for things that are not her fault – it’s about dollars and cents and the fact that in the very near future they aren’t going to add up what they did before.

Those who are against any sort of tax increase are not going to vote against this, and that’s fine.

But when services are cut, I really hope those same people aren’t the ones leading the charge for answers because they didn’t like the answer that they had in front of them.

At that point, it’ll be too late. The damage will be done.

Keep that in mind when you’re filling out your ballot.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.