Councilman Gary Singh doesn’t want to repeat history.
For the past four to six years, Manteca has adopted budgets that came with a promise work would start in that fiscal year to fix streets in the Mayors Park and Springtime Estates neighborhoods, upgrade and synchronize traffic signals in real time, replace traffic signs with signs significantly more visible at night and in the perennial tule fog, as well as address widening Main Street to four lanes through downtown to improve the traffic flow.
And then each year none of the projects get to the point that physical work starts. In some cases such as the two neighborhoods additional problems were discovered that delayed progress. In both Springtime and Mayors the streets were put in place almost 40 years ago without the proper base.
It is why during the $45 million capital improvement plan workshop Singh asked city engineer Leigh Ann Sutton point blank whether her department could deliver projects totaling $30.7 million during the fiscal year starting July 1. That includes possibly the downtown paver project and improving the worst pavement segments along the Airport Way corridor between Daniels Street and Lathrop Road.
Sutton assured Singh she could, providing all of the staff vacancies are filled.
This is not a new council concern.
It surfaced repeatedly in past years when then Public Works Department head Mark Houghton was responsible for projects now being done by the engineering department that was created less than two years ago.
While Houghton repeatedly had his staff raided by previous city managers that needed to replace the community development director or have additional help in the city manager’s office there were repeated directives from top management to only fill “essential” positions.
The city was also struggling to find qualified engineers willing to work at the city’s pay scale.
The bulk of the rationale behind the creation of the standalone engineering department was to get projects moving that had been caught in a bottleneck. The other was to reduce the reliance on outside consultants to do the work in a bid to speed up the process and have a better hand on costs.
Sutton believes she will be able to get a team in place through promoting qualified existing staff into new positions she is working with human resources to create. At that point Sutton indicated the city’s pay scale for essentially entry level engineers is strong enough to make Manteca competitive to snare qualified candidates.
If Sutton is unable to get the personnel in place that could mean some or much of the high priority and pressing street work that accounts for 26 cents of every dollar of the $45 million set aside for capital improvement projects may not get started with physical work visible to the public within the next 14 month.
There are 23 projects assigned to the engineering department including solid waste, water, wastewater, and transportation-related endeavors.
Sutton stressed that “only if we fill the vacant positions will we be able to deliver the projects.”
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