Manteca Councilman Mike Morowit gets points for two things: Standing up for tax integrity and cutting though government red tape. But at the same time he may have cracked open the door wider for Manteca to renew its addiction to snorting bonus bucks,
The council led by Morowit — although it was clear Rich Silverman could have started things going if he’d simply been called on by Mayor Steve DeBrum first — killed forcing selected homeowners from paying extra for police and fire personnel.
Municipal staff — charged by the council with coming up with creative ways to fund government without raising taxes per se — recommended that the 356 future owners of homes yet to be built in Woodward Park I and II pay $427 a year to cover the salary of a police officer and six-tenths of the salary of a firefighter.
It would have been done through a community facilities district that also will collect fees for landscaping, street lights, and park maintenance. The fee is for all practical purposes a tax regardless of legal mumbo jumbo about the differences between the two.
Morowit, in making his point, rattled off a long list of taxes that a Manteca homeowner is subject to via their property as well as when they drop cash in stores. Included in that is Measure M, the half cent sales tax that helps pay for police and fire staffing beyond the 60 percent of the city’s $30 million general fund that’s dedicated to public safety expenses.
Morowit argued — and the rest of the council concurred — that making 356 homeowners pay extra for police and fire and not having a tangible way of measuring exactly how that benefits the 356 households beyond the service level other city residents receive was patently unfair.
To make up for the lost “revenue” for the city, Silverman asked whether the developer would sweeten the delivery of crack or bonus bucks collected in exchange for sewer allocation certainty.
The developer had agreed to pay $5,000. When it was clear the rest of the council had no objection to mainlining more bonus bucks, council asked staff and then the developer if they had a number in mind. When no one responded, Morowit tossed out $7,500 as the bonus bucks number per house. The council adopted it and Silverman proclaimed it as the new standard for bonus bucks.
So instead of sending it back to staff for further massaging, the council, cut to the chase and made an honest-to-goodness policy decision without months of study or negotiation.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is there is no sign on the horizon that elected leaders and staff have checked themselves into the bonus buck rehabilitation clinic.
Bonus bucks can be a beneficial “tax” medication but not if they are abused.
Mike Atherton — much to the chagrin sometimes of his fellow developers — has no problem “leaving more on the table”.
Elected leaders like to proclaim how bonus bucks can be spent on community endeavors that otherwise would not have been funded to demonstrate that growth can benefit everyone.
Unfortunately the city historically has used the majority of the bonus bucks to stay addicted to the status quo in terms of how the city operates and provides services day-to-day.
It is true bonus bucks have paid for half of a fire station, soccer field lights at Woodward Park the skate park, Tidewater traffic signals, aerial fireworks, and such.
But over $12.2 million was used to bridge general fund budget deficits.
It softened the blow of the Great Recession by having the bonus bucks as a slush fund of sorts to cover the mentality of “business as usual” when city expenses were exceeding revenue long before the collapse of the housing market,
Had the bonus bucks not been there, the city would have been forced to rethink services and staffing long before 2008.
The premise was the $12.2 million would have been spent on one-time expenses and things the city normally wouldn’t have such as the $1.6 million Manteca Veterans Center now being built on Moffat Boulevard. In other words, instead of covering staff salaries and benefits the $12.2 million could have gone toward a new library as an example.
It didn’t because staff over the years convinced councils not to spend the money as they knew full well the general fund as it was operated was unsustainable. Previous councils, for their part, benefitted politically as it allowed them to avoid unpleasant issues such as cutting services to fit general fund budget realties or to increase taxes to maintain staffing.
In that sense, the Great Recession was a blessing as it forced the city to rethink how it was doing business much like the private sector has to do year end and year out.
The concept of bonus bucks is fine as long as they are used as originally promised — to have growth finance enhancements that Manteca as a community could not otherwise afford.
By simply upping the ante with no game plan in place of what the council would like to see the money go toward eventually opens the door down the road for using bonus bucks as a backstop so the city can inflate general fund expenditures when compared to revenues.
The city needs to wean itself off of bonus bucks as the drug of choice to keep general fund expenditures artificially high.
If they don’t the $7,500 bonus buck charge the council imposed Tuesday will be no different than the community facilities tax for police and fire salaries that they vilified.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.