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A possible way to keep those six firefighters
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Here is the $1.2 million question: Does anyone on the Manteca City Council have the stomach to take a calculated risk to preserve municipal service levels for another year by saving the jobs of six firefighters and at least some of the 10 other municipal workers due to be laid off on July 1 in order to balance the budget?

They should especially if all of the employees not handed a pink slip - at least so far anyway - agree to compensation reductions in the 10 to 12 percent range that are needed to put spending on even keel with revenue when the new fiscal year starts in 16 days.

So how can the council accomplish this?

All they need to do are two things. First use the $940,000 the city earned when they sold the transit station site last year to the Manteca Redevelopment Agency for $940,000. The council in August of 2010 directed that the $940,000 go into the city’s emergency reserve.

It marked the first time since at least the mid-1990s that money had been added to the emergency reserve. It has been kept through good and bad financial times at $1,918,000. The additional money brought that account up to $2,858,000.

Perhaps city staff is already recommending the council raid that money as part of its bid to cover the $4 million shortfall for the next fiscal year. We don’t know for sure because the budget plan can’t be unveiled until the city strikes deals with bargaining groups. One or two things will come out of those sessions. There either will be sufficient cutbacks in compensation for everyone to keep their jobs or more people will be shown the door.

The city’s strategy obviously should be to keep as many people in place as possible to maintain services. That could be tricky for some city workers who may have been squeezed too much in concessions already.

But that said Manteca has gone nearly 20 years with a $1.9 million emergency reserve before bumping it up. Finance Director Suzanne Mallory is probably correct when she said it should be at $6 million just like former City Manager Bob Adams was when he pushed for a reserve equal to 25 percent of the budget or three months worth of operating costs.

The council - which includes a majority of existing members - resisted pumping up reserves for years then so why do it now? Part of the reason is there aren’t a lot of undesignated funds left such as bonus bucks if something does happen although the city has prudently built up reserves for things such as capital equipment replacement. Even so, a case could be made that 20 years have gone by with no need to access the money. Then again something could go wrong. That, however, is no better than saying if you cut back six firefighters that something could go wrong and Manteca could have a major catastrophe. “If” - for a small word - can justify big decisions.

The other $271,000 could be produced by putting Big League Dreams payments to the park fee for money used to build the complex “in abeyance” for one year or so to “protect jobs.”

Those words in quotes aren’t by accident. That is exactly what the city did with bonus bucks. They put them in “abeyance” in a bid to help “protect jobs” in the private sector at the request of developers.

Manteca owes the park fund about $276,000 then it’s paid off. After that the money will flow into the general fund. A year from now, though, will be a bit too late to do any good.

While borrowing from other funds isn’t prudent the amount in this case is small and the ability to pay it back is great unless the city knows something about BLD that everyone else doesn’t.

Of course there would have to be interest attached. And it could be arranged where it is paid back $25,000 or so for the next 12-15 years so the current money could be sent to the general fund now. Or they could pay it off when things get better especially if they get Great Wolf Resort on line and it does what they say it will do and bringing $4 million a year to the city’s coffers.

As for park projects, it doesn’t make sense to keep adding many more than are already in the pipeline since staff is now attaching an annual maintenance cost figure to public facilities. Besides, there isn’t anything in the works that delaying payment of the money back for several years will derail.

The calculated risk, of course, is what will happen a year from now. Will the city still face the need to lay off up to 16 workers or more? Good question. If the city does tap into the $1.2 million and nothing improves then the money is gone but service levels were maintained close to what they are now for another year.

And if things improve, the city made an even smarter move.

Now the real question is what is more important to the council: Preserving as much of the current service levels as possible with cooperation from bargaining units or making the park fund whole now and keeping that extra $940,000 emergency reserve cushion in place?