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Bond elections are inevitable but are Manteca leaders clear on what is needed?
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Most of us when we buy a house after we determine our basic needs and desired wants will then decide how much we can afford and more importantly how much of a monthly payment we can stomach financially and emotionally

That’s why it is a tad odd about how the City of Manteca and/or its elected leaders are queuing up the first of what are almost certain to be bond measures. One is for $42 million or so in recreation amenities a phone/community survey has determined what residents want — without asking the question in terms of what they are willing to pay that if passed would make it tougher to pass a bond for let’s say a new police station. The other is for a new city hall that Mayor Ben Cantu has made clear is the linchpin for any successful effort to revitalize downtown. The cost tag for a new city hall could come close to matching what the $42 million will cover in recreation amenities —an aquatics center, community gym, and more sports fields.

There are some who will contend there are other ways to pay for such facilities instead of bonding.

Let’s go through that short list of pipe dreams for funding amenities as opposed to basic infrastructure:

uState or federal grants. That worked real well for that new library project, didn’t it? Manteca’s requests were denied in 2003 and 2005. That was back when money flowed like the spring runoff in the Sierra.

uCorporate grants. This would be rich given some would argue that the deals cities such as Manteca have to make nowadays to land businesses — think the concessions Amazon is getting for its “second” corporate headquarters — means the ask is the other direction.

uFees on new growth. Let’s try and put this fantasy to rest once and for all. The courts have made it crystal clear that growth can only be charged for its share of the cost of facilities and such that covers its impact. If a new city hall costs $30 million and the city’s population at the time of payoff is projected to be 120,000 and its population at the time the project is started is 80,000, growth can only be forced to pay a third or $10 million of the $30 million cost. The example is a tad simplistic but it clearly illustrates the dilemma that gets masked by cries and demands that “growth pay for itself.”

uCommunity facility districts. For citywide facilities such as a city hall and an aquatics center, the taxing would also be citywide. The reason why this is an idiotic move is that unlike a bond where you can go out and sell it relatively quick after its passage as it is secured by the city general fund, a CFD needs to establish a pool of cash before you can go to sell bonds meaning it could be three or more years longer to get started that, based on recent construction cost trends, could increase the cost of a project 20 percent plus before you even get started.

uParcel tax. The same problem as a CFD except you’d be giving people transparent sticker shock as the ballot measure would have to clearly state the cost per year in real dollars per parcel and not in palatable measures such as $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation that would translate into $300 a year on a home assessed at $300,000.

Now let’s be completely transparent and upfront. The city needs certain things and doesn’t have the money to pay for them. The community wants certain things and Daddy Warbucks isn’t writing a $50 million check to cover the cost. The Manteca Unified School District clearly plans to be asking for a fourth bond payment to be added to our property tax bills. That’s likely to occur in 2020. The have a billion dollars’ worth of modernization and upgrade needs. They are also at one point likely to come up short in accommodating growth despite Mello-Roos districts and growth fees. This may come as a shock to some folks at city hall, but City of Manteca taxpayers are also Manteca Unified taxpayers.

The city, like the school district, has a long list of things they need and/or the community wants that also will likely need to be bonded for to obtain.

Most of us don’t make what PG&E CEO Geisha Williams does in a given year — $8.56 million — nor have we won the Mega Millions jackpot. At the same time most of us are likely to begrudgingly vote for a bond for something that is clearly demonstrated as a pressing need if the government agency requesting it has demonstrated it is operating efficiently. We will do that even if we know the increase in our property tax will hurt a bit or even if we don’t realize as renters when our landlords pass on increased costs in the form of rent hikes it is usually more than a 100 percent pass through.

It is why the City Council — before they start dribbling out individual bond proposals or projects that need bonds to get done —needs to make a clear set of priorities. If a new $30 million city hall is more important than a stand-alone $12 million aquatics center or an adequately sized police station that affords law enforcement personnel at least secure facilities, then our elected leaders need to make sure that is the proposal that goes to the voters first.

Better yet before dealing with only one segment of a community at a time — those that want an aquatics center and those that want to put some serious cash into transforming downtown — the council needs to take a careful look around.

May I suggest they start with the police department? There are Third World police departments in smaller cities that likely are more secure. There is no bulletproof glass in the lobby that is just a bit bigger than the proverbial phone both. The campus —if you can call or that —is a sieve. There are open air corridors to go from one section of the building to another. The six-foot high wrought iron fences securing those areas can easily be breached.

We hear nothing about this because there isn’t a vocal group or shotgun Greek choruses on social media demanding something be done as there is about downtown or even an aquatics center.

Do you ever wonder why there are no open house style events at the Manteca Police Department as they are in many other cities? Some of it may be due to space but in all honesty I don’t think city leaders want to incur the wrath of residents if they really saw first-hand the low level of security and the space that we force the men and women who go to work every day and put their lives on the line for us have to deal with.

I’m not against bonding for city needs and wants per se. What I am against is our elected leaders moving forward with anything that will need to encumber my home and that of my neighbors without first determining what the absolute No. 1 need overall for the City of Manteca really is.

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 or 209.249.3519.