It is time for the City of Manteca to get out of the landscape maintenance district business when it comes to the manual labor aspects.
In doing so it will:
uCreate entry level jobs.
uFree up city personnel that can be assigned to park upkeep and a wide array of other city needs from downtown upkeep to areas that the city owns that they can’t seem to weed until five months after they’ve ordered everyone else to abate weeds.
uHelp reduce expenses for those paying into landscape maintenance districts.
Landscape maintenance districts, or LMDs, are taxing districts creating to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of sound wall and common landscaping areas connected with specific subdivisions. Combined the districts generate well over $1 million annually. All but a handful are public LMDs meaning the city oversees them.
Up until about a decade ago, the LMDs were maintained by several contracted landscaping firms. The city, when queried after the number reached 36 districts, indicated that it wasn’t cost efficient to bring the LMD in house.
But that is exactly what they did several years later when the economy went into the toilet, city revenues dropped and the city was looking for innovative ways to save municipal jobs. Besides shifting street sweeping jobs from the general fund to solid waste, parks jobs with shifted to the LMDs.
That mean the landscaping firms — that the city had no problems with — were terminated. Because there were less city employees assigned due to per hour costs they worked on finding ways to do things more efficiently.
Generally things are OK with the LMDs but I can rattle off more than a few trees that haven’t been replaced over the years. People are being taxed on the premise things are being maintained and not reduced in scope.
City workers make much more money than someone working for a landscaping company. They also have benefits including the big elephant in the room — city payments into the Public Employees Retirement System.
The odds are great private firms can once again maintain the LMDs, put more people to work, still do it as well and reduce expenses to help keep costs down.
The city needs to shift the LMD employees to park upkeep and an endless list of other municipal upkeep needs including stepping up the city’s game in downtown in general and dealing with large unsightly trash, some of which is homeless related and some that isn’t.
Imagine having two workers that can improve maintenance and care of public areas in downtown and elsewhere on an ongoing basis.
As the city grows the positions can be reabsorbed into the general fund over two to three years as LMDs are put out to bid.
It will not lower the standard of upkeep. If a private contractor doesn’t do the job, replace them.
There is little doubt the city is understaffed when it comes to park maintenance by virtually every yardstick. There are also other pressing quality of life issues. Why not up Manteca’s game and create new jobs at the same time?
If the economy dives again, the city could always shuffle positions back into LMDs
But what is now happening is the city — which was understaffed to begin with on park maintenance and other related concerns — is masking a real shortfall problem in staffing
There were more than two dozen properties that are municipally owned that are not abated of weeds in a timely and consistent manner. Think of what it would be like to have more manpower devoted to maintaining the overall looks of the city.
Work done by city employees such as lawn mowing, sprinkler work, and weeding are charged off to LMDs.
Assuming the city is doing it right, there is a hefty surcharge on each city employee that works in a LMB that is built into the annual assessment. If a worker is making $16 an hour, the city is easily paying $4 to $6 more an hour for benefits, retirement, and other payroll costs that an employee of a landscape maintenance firm wouldn’t incur.
A landscape firm worker making $11 an hour costs the LMD between $10 and $11 an hour less because of what the firm isn’t paying the employee. That means a private sector firm can have two workers compared to one city worker for the same amount of money. Since pay scales are actually higher for city workers, than means every city worker equals 2 to 4 private sector workers.
If the city isn’t charging off the PERS and benefits for the city workers assigned to LMD work, then the LMD property owners aren’t being charged for all of the cost of the LMD meaning the general fund is illegally subdivision the LMD.
Either reach way, the city is sticking it to someone — the taxpayers or the LMD property owners.
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.