Do Manteca residents matter?
It is a question that the new Manteca City Council that is seated next month needs to ask themselves.
No one is ever going to accuse the current or previous councils for not getting the big picture for the past 30 years or so even during periods of open civil war on the council. The proof of that can be seen with a surface water treatment plant that includes future expansion capacity, a well-designed wastewater treatment plant that was built to easily add capacity, 60 plus neighborhood parks along with Woodward Park and Big League Dreams, as well as a fairly effective storm drainage system.
That is backed up with a staff that not only executed those directives but has thought of out-of-the-box to keep a handle on costs and advance smart initiatives that ultimately will save money by reducing the need for future rate increases. That includes implementing a food waste to compressed natural gas system that is now moving forward along with a solar farm to power part of the wastewater treatment plant.
And when it comes to making innovative deals, Manteca has managed to do that to get Spreckels Park off the ground, land Bass Pro Shops via Orchard Valley, bring Costco to Manteca instead of another Modesto locale or Lathrop, and what may soon be a final deal to secure a private sector investor for a resort/conference center/indoor water park on city-owned land.
Each time a sales tax sharing deal was made, redevelopment funds invested, or some other creative incentive put in place, the promise was made this would be the deal that would start the money rolling in to expand day-to-day municipal operations.
In other words, the day was coming when the city would be in the position to address neighborhood concerns more effectively, upgrade alleys and recreation opportunities, restore street maintenance workers, and work on other community wants and needs such as a library.
So what did the current council give us under the urging of municipal staff for all of those years of sacrifice when it came to the little things that have big impacts on the quality of life of people who actually live here and pay property taxes? They hoarded property tax dollars assessed to run day-to-day operations at the rate of $750,000 a year since the demise of RDA until they built up a $2.5 million fund for economic development.
That is the money the city tapped to pay for a $57,500 city branding effort and website upgrade. It is a slush fund for all practical purposes.
Something catches the whim of city hall brass and it’s spend, spend, spend. It took the council less than a week to OK the money for a branding consultant when staff asked for it. Yet crosswalk warning lights on Wellington Avenue at Woodward Avenue have been inoperable for three weeks. Remember, this is the stretch of road where one of those cash cows — a Manteca taxpayer — was killed crossing the street while midway across pushing his grandson in a stroller. Obviously staff doesn’t have the resources budgeted to fix the crosswalk warning system. They have put up two out-of-order signs instead. That said, two council meetings will have passed by Tuesday when the people who are hired to run this city could have brought the matter to the council if they needed to hire outside help to fix a health and safety concern. This is what we supposedly have reserves for, isn’t it?
The council and staff hired a branding consultant at warp speed by Manteca standards but when it comes to the safety of kids crossing the street or fixing downtown alleys that are a known safety hazard they are all of a sudden tapped out.
Council let staff sweet talk them into creating the economic slush fund from property taxes. It is money that had been going to the RDA. Had there not been an RDA in place, it would have gone directly to the general fund help pay for day-to-day municipal operations. The city staff rationalized the city got along fine for years without using the money in the general fund.
Really. Then why did we have to lay off police officers in 2008? Why did we burn through $11 million in bonus bucks for sewer allocations to balance the general fund over 10 years? Why haven’t we replaced an aging fire engine? Why haven’t we identified money to keep firefighters after their federal grant runs out? Why haven’t we fixed downtown alleys? Why haven’t we hired an additional traffic officer for the police department? Why haven’t we restored street worker positions?
With each passing day the reason is becoming self-evident. Manteca residents don’t matter as much as the next big deal.
And like a true gambling addict, the city is taking money out of the piggy bank when there isn’t enough to feed and clothe the baby so they can try and land the next big deal.
If you doubt that, just three words — San Joaquin Partnership. In the past 20 years, Manteca has spent over $4 million and what does Manteca physically have to show for it? Yes, jobs in Tracy helps with local employment but it doesn’t do a thing for the property tax rolls.
The bottom line is the $750,000 is being collected from property owners every year to pay for city services. Yet when residents ask for streets to be fixed or for more traffic enforcement, they are told there is no more money.
That’s because the council drank the Kool-Aid and created a slush fund that city staff can raid to pay for branding consultants.
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.