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Mantecas fire sale: Lower fees
City lacks money to build new stations; proposing to slash fees
FIRE MFD11-6-27-11
Manteca firefighters conducting a controlled burn this past summer at South Main and Wetmore streets. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca needs to build at least two more fire stations to meet adopted municipal emergency response service goals  for development already in place.

The city also will need to acquire and equip fire engines at over $400,000 a pop for each new station. The tab for fire stations and fire engines could easily surpass $9 million.

Manteca has a fee slapped on new residential construction that has been unchanged since 2000 at 30 cents a square foot. That means a typical house of 2,000 square feet would be charged $600 for fire fees. That adjustment 11 years ago went forward without an annual adjustment for inflation as developers argued at the time “it would hurt the housing market.” 

That fee put in place in 2000 - by the way - was the first adjustment since 1989 when the city imposed a $350 fee  per single family home. It proved woefully inadequate as the city had to spend almost $400,000 in bonus bucks to complete the Union Road station that cost just over $1.2 million to build at the turn of the century.

It is against that background that some developers pushed a year ago for the city to “discount” growth fees collected to pay for everything from fire protection needs and parks to major streets in a bid to stimulate housing growth to create jobs.

The City Council was scheduled Tuesday to consider fire fees that are 12.5 percent lower for single family residential homes than it was in 2000. Staff, however, has asked for a postponement and indicated in a staff report that they will be submitting even lower fees than the ones that had been proposed at 25 cents per square foot. They have indicated a study done on what is needed, the cost of obtaining it and the share that can legally be charged to growth dictates an even lower fee than the one originally proposed.

The staff indicated the delay will not financially cost the city. What it doesn’t address, however, is the shortfall of money stretching back to 1989 that made it impossible for the city to build what they said they needed -namely two more fire stations. The city - based on what they haven’t been able to build - has collected significantly less money than they need.

The quandary is new growth can’t legally be charged the cost to build what existing development requires in terms of building for city services. And with Manteca leading the Northern San Joaquin Valley with 300 new housing units a year, the city seems to be continuing to under collect the funds it needs. However, the staff report indicates that what they are now collecting is more than adequate to pay for growth’s share of new fire stations. Yet nothing addresses how the city goes into its current hole or exactly how they will pay for such fire stations.

And there is nothing in the report that indicates the impact - if any - of a state mandate that went into effect this year requiring new homes have fire sprinklers has on the impact of the need for fire stations.

Both fire stations - one on Lathrop Road west of Union Road and the other at Woodward Avenue and Atherton Drive - would serve areas that essentially had significantly less homes than they do today.

Thousands of homes have been built in Manteca during the last 21 years that are outside a 5-minute response time of a fire station.

That includes the majority of the 3,000 homes in northwest Manteca around East Union High and another 1,000 in southwest Manteca near Woodward Park. The fire stations to serve those two areas will cost $4 million apiece due to new stringent state construction standards that require them to withstand a major earthquake. Despite 4,000 homes being built that had fire fees assessed against them, Manteca barely has anything set aside to pay for their construction. The roughly $180,000 in growth fees for fire services paid on the 304 homes built in 2009 in Manteca was just enough to cover the $170,000 debt payment on the $1 million 100-foot aerial platform fire engine.

The current fees are 30 cents per square foot for residential, 13 cents per square foot for commercial and three cents per square foot for industrial.

The proposed fees - that are now said to be too high - would reduce single family residential down to 25 cents per square foot, set multiple family units at 29 cents, and charge commercial 18 cents, offices 24 cents and industrial nine cents per square foot.

Nursing homes would be charged $1,806 per bed.

Why more fire stations are needed

Manteca’s  general plan  that established policies that the city shoots for in terms off service level targets an average response time of five minutes or less.

The five-minute response time is a mantra for those who make a living putting out fires and responding to heart attacks.

Having firefighters and equipment on the scene of a fire or medical emergency within five minutes is essential for two reasons:

• The chance of surviving a heart attack or major trauma starts dropping off rapidly after five minutes.

• “Flash over” when fires literally erupt occur within five minutes of the first visible flame.

It sounds like a lot of time, but it really isn’t. A call being placed, equipment dispatching and the engine actually rolling out of a fire station consume the first two and a half minutes.

That leaves 180 seconds for firefighters to reach a structure fire or a major medical emergency.