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Storm brewing over costs
State puts more storm run-off costs on cities
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The buyers of homes in new Manteca neighborhoods approved in the mid-1990s were forced by conditions placed on development to pay into landscape maintenance districts.

In the beginning, that meant they’d be picking up the tab to maintain common landscaping areas and adjoining sound walls.
Then a few years ago as Manteca struggled to keep up with growth the maintenance costs of neighborhood parks were tossed into the equation.

Last year with the state taking local money to balance its deficit coupled with a drop in property and sales tax Manteca started requiring the operation and maintenance of street lights within a specific neighborhood to be in  the LMD assessment.

Now with Manteca’s general fund facing a $3.8 million deficit  starting July 1 despite over $11 million in cutbacks this fiscal year, city staff looked to the LMD as a way to start shifting some of the pressure off the stressed general fund that is the primary source of funding police, fire, streets, and basic municipal services.

Its proposal, though, to include it as a condition of the LMD being required for the proposed 93-home Silva Estates being planned as part of an 88-acre annexation generally on the southeast quadrant of the Woodward Avenue and Union Road intersection was met with resistance.

The cost of maintaining the storm water filter in the neighborhood park storm basin was projected at $2,000 a year plus set aside money to eventually replace the $30,000 filter when it wears out. Staff figured that would add $30 a year to the LMD on top of basic landscaping costs, park maintenance and street lights.

Jim Rachels of MCR Engineering, the firm representing the proponents of Silva Estates, asked that the condition be removed noting it was actually an “open-ended” cost.

Rachels argued that as the regional water quality control board changes requirements it would mean escalating costs for those 93 homeowners that no one else in the city previously had been subjected to pay. At the same time if a chemical spill contaminated the storm drain filter in the Silva Estates park/storm basin the cost would fall on the homeowners to remedy it.

Rachels argued that it would put the builder at a distinct disadvantage as such a financial liability would have to be disclosed to potential buyers.

Councilman Vince Hernandez agreed noting that basic infrastructure that he referred to as “the things you don’t see” such as storm drains, water, and sewer should be a general cost borne by the city.

Elected leaders will explore how best not to make new projects pay for the share of the storm system costs they create so it simply doesn’t keep adding a burden to the general fund. Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford said one possibility may be the formation of a Mello-Roos tax district for new project to address the storm drain maintenance.

Up until 2001 when the council voted to drop it, the city had in place a monthly charge of $2.35 applied to each month residential utility bill issued for the collection of sewer, water and garbage service that was called a utility fee.

At the time the fee was being collected it generated $690,000 a year. Although not restricted by ordinance, municipal policy directed all of the receipts to pay for the storm run-off maintenance and operations costs throughout the city.

In the year the utility fee was dropped the city spent $1,032,600 on the storm drainage system. Whatever work is now done needs to be funded 100 percent from the general fund that is under duress due to drop-offs in property and sales taxes.