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The cost of council talk: $225K
Upgrading aging tech in meeting chambers part of spending plan
Councilman John Harris doesnt think it is wise to move ahead with $225,000 in tech upgrades for the council chambers. - photo by HIME ROMERO

It’ll cost at least $225,000 to bring technology in the Manteca City Council chambers at the Civic Center into the 21st century.

And even then, it may not solve problems that many residents have with being able to hear what is being said during the cable broadcast of City Council meetings on Comcast Channel 97.

The money was budgeted in previous years and has yet to be spent.

And even though he agrees the sound system has much to be desired, Councilman John Harris made it clear as one elected official he doesn’t have the stomach to go ahead with the project given other pressing needs and the weak economy.

“That’s a lot of money,” Harris said during Thursday’s special council meeting focusing on Manteca’s five-year capital improvement project plan.

The project was made a council goal/priority on March 17, 2008. And unlike other capital improvement projects that are funded using money that has restrictions on how it is used, the council chamber upgrade has bonus bucks earmarked for it. Bonus bucks are shorthand for the corporative development sewer agreement fee that developers were paying to assure sewer allocation certainty. Unlike other growth fees, there are no legal restrictions on how they can be used. More than $6 million, as an example, have been used in previous years to balance the city budget to avoid cutting back service levels when the general fund came up short.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin told council members that the $225,000 figure could be just the tip of the ice berg. She said since the last time work had been done in the council chambers, the requirements for compliance with the American Disabilities Act have changed. And just like a private sector concern, when the city has a major remodel of a public access area for whatever reason they have to come into compliance.

McLaughlin said it would make no sense to tear up the chamber for wiring and such and then to have to go back and do work again.

The slope of the access in the aisles is out of compliance as is the seating and even podium access. There is also an issue with the type of windows the chambers have in place not meeting current federal DA requirements.

The technology in the council chambers is over 21 years old. The sound system has issues often making it hard for the audience to hear what is being said. At the same time the cable TV equipment is over two decades old as well.

The $225,000 figure includes a new sound system, audio-visual equipment, cameras, post/pre-production control room, the necessary computers to run the equipment plus remodeling of the audience seating and council seating.

Staff indicated that it would also include providing council members with a paperless agenda and staff report option using either laptop computers or tablets.

Manteca resident Bruce Lownsbery suggested that any upgrade includes a large screen in the council chambers where staff could project the documents that council members are discussing.

City Clerk Joann Tilton said that the issue with cable sound that seems to be neighborhood specific probably wouldn’t be addressed or improved with any of the changes being proposed. She said the issue has been brought to Comcast’s attention several times and they have been unsuccessful in efforts to troubleshoot it.