People, they say, get the government they ask for.
And — in most cases — you also get the government you pay for.
The most expensive component of local government is public safety. In Manteca, 62 cents of every general fund dollar goes to operate the police and fire departments.
At the same time we are still more of a bedroom community. That typically means unless you are Pleasanton with significantly higher property values plus a strong regional shopping base and employment centers or an Orinda with extremely high home property values, you are going to come up short in the general fund for actual and perceived needs.
Manteca’s sales tax situation has improved significantly with Costco and Bass Pro Shops. Having a Costco here stopped $6 million annually in Manteca consumer dollars flowing into Modesto and Tracy. It also lured consumer dollars from Lathrop, Ripon, and Escalon. And with that comes sales tax. The ultra-regional draw of Bass Pro means 98 percent of the taxable sales are made by people living outside Manteca’s city limits. If Manteca scores the Great Wolf Resort, by conservative projections it will clear initially $1 million plus a year on “special zone” hotel room taxes once all annual payments for infrastructure bonds are covered. While what goes in the general fund will increase each year, basically that would translate into seven more public safety employees —firefighters and police — if all of those receipts went for that purpose.
But a city doesn’t live by public safety alone. They are parks to maintain, streets to repair, library books to buy and quality of life issues to address.
And given the language of the voter approved Measure M that spells out the city must maintain basic public safety spending at 62 percent while collecting the additional half-cent sales tax that has allowed 15 more police officers and 13 more firefighters to be hired than the general fund could afford to cover, public safety will likely get just 62% of that extra $1 million a year. That translates into either 4.5 police officers, 4.5 firefighters or a combination thereof.
Manteca crime is down in terms of felonies per 100,000 residents. It is also down in numerical statistical comparisons of felonies although we obviously have some increases such as the spike in homicides this year.
You can argue that smart deployment of resources have allowed Manteca to weather the budget crisis fairly well in terms of maintaining basic public safety.
But what about crime prevention, traffic law enforcement, long-term gang deterrence, and quality of life issues such as the alphabet of misdemeanors and sometimes felonies committed by the homeless?
Then there is the emergency medical and fire response. Manteca is short manpower to fully staff the Lathrop Road fire station 24/7. A need exists to build a fire station at Woodward Avenue and Atherton Drive. But even if it were built the city doesn’t have the funding for the manpower.
If you are satisfied with the current level of service, then there is no problem. If you want the previously mentioned concerns addressed in an effective and consistent manner, the city needs more resources. And resources cost money.
There is little doubt that Manteca’s police and firefighters are a lean and effective group. You will be hard-pressed to find any city of 50,000 or more — Manteca is closing in on 73,000 residents — that operates with as low a ratio of police officers and firefighters per 1,000 residents that Manteca.
From a fiscal standpoint, that is something the city can be proud of. But whether it has produced results above and beyond basic public safety needs is where the debate takes place.
Yes, Manteca might still be able to squeeze out one or two more public safety officers or find a way to make them a bit more efficient within current funding perimeters. But do much beyond that and you will seriously crimp other municipal services and create other quality of life issues and even public safety concerns. It takes money to maintain streets and to keep street lights on.
You need to ask yourself what could Manteca do with 20 more police officers and 10 more firefighters and if you are willing to pay the price to secure them?
You would get another 30 front-line public safety employees by increasing the restricted sales tax by a half cent. The split represents two thirds of that additional funding going for police officers and a third going to firefighters. The existing half cent sales tax is a 50-50 split between police and fire.
Very few of us would take to the streets demanding government raise our taxes. But if we genuinely believe there is a need and collectively agree to a threshold that requires a two thirds voter approval, we can have more police and firefighters.
The question is will we even get a chance to decide Manteca’s fate at the ballot box. It would be a pretty clear choice? A “no” vote would mean you are content with the way things are now and a “yes” vote means you want public safety taken to the next level.
The only other question is if our elected leaders have the courage to give us that choice in the 2016 general election.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.