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If we want more police it will cost us
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It’s time we had honest conversations about Manteca, our needs, our wants, and our maddeningly inability to plan and then execute strategies and stick to them to obtain amenities.
Given we are starting the bi-annual chest beating and posturing better known as city council campaigns or — depending upon your perspective — a parade of puffy promises that go flat the second the polls close or a spacewalk untethered by reality.
You can’t seek or pitch honest solutions unless you have a grasp of the playing field. That includes rules you must follow imposed by either the federal or state government, deals cut with the county, voter mandates, employee contracts, or court rulings.
You can wish things aren’t a certain way all you want, but barring a shift of tectonic proportions that would be way above the pay grade of a Manteca elected official or key bureaucratic leaders, it isn’t going to happen.
Let’s focus this time on police staffing. For the past 14 election cycles, virtually every candidate running whether they are perceived as insiders, outsiders or renegades have argued the city needs to hire more police officers than they are hiring. And when any of them are elected, inside or renegade, they quickly fall in line to continue the hiring pattern.
You could sum it up in one word — money — but that is a bit simplistic.
Manteca, without much deviation, has devoted right around 63 percent of its discretionary general fund for the past 20 years to public safety. That means for every $100 budgeted, 63 cents goes to police and fire services.
The other 37 cents goes to things such as street maintenance crews, parks and recreation, library operations, general government and reserves set aside for emergencies and rainy days. Things such as sewer, water, and solid waste are 100 percent supported by user fees collected from monthly utility bills or connection fees.
The 63 percent in general fund set aside for police and fire is actually cast in stone. Wording in the 2006 voter approved Measure M — the half cent public safety sales tax — bars the city from dropping below 63 percent funding. The language was included to prevent the city from substituting Measure M funds for general fund money to support public safety.
At the same time pension costs are escalating due to a number of factors of which most are out of the city’s control.
That means a realistic figure to put a police officer on the street in terms of base salary, overtime caused by court appearances to major incidents to staffing shortages, health benefits, workmen’s compensation, pensions and other post retirement costs is coming in close to $200,000 a year per officer. The figure is less per firefighter and drops off significantly for other workers. The reason public safety is higher has to do with more exposure to on-the-job injuries and a shorter time of service before they can obtain full retirement benefits.
Manteca in order to get its share of the best qualified candidates especially when the job market is hot has to be competitive in what they offer to potential employees. Even excluding the closest Bay Area communities, most other cities are more generous to some degree.
That means if the Great Wolf deal goes through and Manteca realizes $1.7 million on an annual basis, 63 cents of that as voters mandated will go to public safety. That’s $1,071,000 or five police officers, six firefighters, or a combination if public safety’s share went 100 percent to front line staffing. That’s not going to happen as they need patrol cars, fire engines, equipment and support staff such as records clerks and dispatchers to do their jobs not to mention electricity to power their stations, gas to run their vehicles, and liability insurance to protect the city.
Should the Great Wolf deal go through and the council ups the motel room tax from 9 percent to 13.5 percent the $4.5 million that would bring in annually translates into $2,835,000 for public safety or 14 more police officers, 17 more firefighters or a combination thereof.
There’s only two ways the city can exceed that pace of police officer hiring  — either cut back or cannibalize streets crews, parks and recreation, and the library or increase taxes specifically for the purpose of public safety.
Without Measure M, Manteca instead of having 66 police officers would have 51. It would mean 15 less firefighters forcing the closure of one fire station and having only rescue squad service or “brown outs” — temporary periods of closure — at another station. Given Manteca has four fire stations and is a little overdue for the fifth at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue with growth likely to make a sixth station in southwest Manteca a pressing need in 10 years, not having Measure M would be devastating.
If a council member or a candidate really believes we need more officers beyond what we have or will get under circumstances the city operates in without slashing other services, then they are going have to push for new taxes restricted to that purpose.
And if we as voters want more police and firefighters than we are getting we need to support a candidate calling for a tax election and be willing to vote in the affirmative and pay the cost.
We can’t get more police protection without paying for it.