Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu is not the bogeyman.
Nor is he a modern version of Nostradamus.
Yet, the second he dares utter the two words “tax increase” it queues up the pitchfork and torch crowds.
Cantu as a member of the City Council does not have the unilateral ability to increase taxes.
Nor does he have the ability working in concert with two council colleagues to impose new or increased taxes.
Rest assured his consistent pushing for a ballot measure to have the people for which the City of Manteca exists to serve decide the level of government amenities and services they want will be a major issue in the upcoming mayoral election.
The tax is a potential increase in sales tax.
A one cent jump would generate $19 million annually or roughly a 30 percent increase in today’s general fund that covers the cost of day-to-day municipal services such as police and fire services as well as street upkeep.
Given the door is for all practical purposes is closed on the 2022 election in order to place such a measure on the ballot debating taxes now seems kind of moot.
After all, the next time under California law a tax measure can be put before the voters in the 2024 general election cycle.
And if approved then the additional revenue wouldn’t reach municipal coffers until late 2025.
That is exactly why now is the right time to have the discussion.
Unlike the successful half cent Measure M public safety tax that originated in the community and not from municipal staff teaming up with consultants to read what direction the wind is blowing, Measure Z — the unsuccessful 2020 tax measure — was pitched by staff.
The council at the time placed it on the ballot and then — except for Cantu — channeled chickens and distanced themselves to provide cover from political fallout should the measure fail.
Not only did it fail but the passing of time showed the city manager who went back to Canada and her sidekick who packed up and moved to Texas used the city’s bookkeeping mess to infer the city was going to be in a world of hurt without the one cent sales tax hike.
As a result, a half-truth when it comes to Manteca’s financial stability was given more credence.
It centers around the misnomer that Manteca city government is addicted to new home construction.
That is not exactly the case.
Yes, the $600,000 new home brings in $6,000 a year in new property taxes of which $1,020 goes to the city.
But the real bump is the home that sold for $425,000 a dozen years ago that went from paying $5,000 a year in property taxes under Proposition 13 sell for $1.1 million to generate $11,000 annually in new property taxes.
Councilman Charlie Halford is partially right when he says new homes subsize old homes. That is especially true if ownership of a home doesn’t turn over for 20 years or more.
In the San Joaquin Valley, homes typically sell every 13.8 years.
That means a large jump in property values.
In most cases the new owners have more robust incomes than the owners they replaced. That means they have more disposable income. As such they have more money for discretionary spending which tends to include items subject to sales tax.
It is why what some refer to as Manteca’s new housing Ponzi scheme for financing city services hasn’t collapsed.
Taking away the safeguards of Proposition 13 — capping property assessments at 1 percent of the market a home sells for and then capping annual property tax rate increases to 2 percent — is not the answer.
In doing so it would subject homeownership to the ravages of inflation and housing market trends.
The reality needs to be understood before tax increase proposals are batted about.
That reality also includes what Manteca can and can not deliver on what the city receives in revenue.
It needs to start with not just parroting decades old lines about government, crime, and such.
Halford is right. Crime based on per 1,000 residents in not just felonies but misdemeanors have steadily been dropping in Manteca.
That is important to know as any diversion that puts aside — or generates even more money — to go toward police would be done at the detriment of other issues that have deteriorated.
If one still wants more funding for police, then they are buying into it knowing what it will cost.
There are those that want everything and not pay a cent more in taxes.
Its delusional thinking. It ignores 85 percent of local government expenses go for pay and benefits for the people who deliver needed and/or desired services. Not only all that but pay and benefits along with the material, fuel, electricity and such that a city needs to operate are subject to inflationary pressures.
If council members want to provide options for voters to determine what level of municipal services they want and are willing to pay for, they need to wean off their current approach.
Three times in the past five years the council has relied on consultants and not the community to explore what the community wants and can stomach to pay.
They did it with the $68 million recreation plan, the lead up to Measure Z, and now the Community Priorities Survey that was a Trojan horse for the Nov. 2022 sales tax election the council passed on.
After the November election, the council should form a 10-member citizen panel just as then City manager Steve Pinkerton did when Manteca was facing massive budget cutbacks in 2008 due to the Great Recession.
Each council member would have two appointments.
It would be an open and transparent process just as it was back then.
The city could go through its books and financial trends in an open and transparent manner. They could also identify the cost of increased services and amenities.
It would also be an opportunity to demonstrate if the city cuts back on one area of municipal spending for another that it would impact services.
Then, after a fact funding process, the citizens committee could make a recommendation.
They could be happy with current service levels and recommend the council not pursue a new tax.
Or they could decide the need exists to boost municipal revenues and recommend to the council how they should go about doing that.
Such a process would mean the perspective of citizens as opposed to the probing of consultants would direct the shaping of a possible tax increase proposal.
It also would lay the foundation for a community based push for possible new taxes and not one handed down by the council after being schooled by high paid consultants who are here today and gone tomorrow.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org