It’s time to come clean with Manteca’s taxpayers.
And Councilman Dave Breitenbucher alluded to how Manteca’s elected leaders can do so during council comments at the end of Tuesday’s City Council meeting when he referenced freed up former property taxes that until a few years ago flowed to the now defunct redevelopment agency.
The failure of Measure Z coupled with the dizzy stories of how Manteca can’t seem to shoot straight when it comes to how they pigeonhole tax dollars on city ledgers and books demands coming clean.
The first thing they can start with is to stop treating roughly $1.4 million a year in property taxes now flowing into the city’s general fund and being culled off first to keep a $2.5 million economic development reserve capped off and then spilled over into undesignated reserves as “new money”.
The property taxes in question were freed up with the demise of the redevelopment agency. The money from property assessments that once all flowed to the RDA is what is left over from the money needed to retire outstanding RDA funds. It is divided between 10 taxing agencies of which the City of Manteca is one.
Had the city not formed the RDA in the 1980s all of that money — plus what is being okay to retire bonds — would have gone to fund general fund services such as police, fire, park upkeep and street maintenance.
This is not an atrocity against taxpayers committed by the current city management. But by not putting an end to it they are perpetuating the scenario that David Tenney — the CEO of Manteca Trailer & RV — artfully and mostly correctly drew of how the city’s leaders seem to approach tax dollars in successfully turning back Measure Z.
When the money was freed up some seven years ago then City Manager Karen McLaughlin declared it “new money” because the “city got along fine without it for years.”
You can find more than a few people who likely would ask how anyone could make such statement given understaffed city services and under-maintained city streets are not new developments.
What started out as $800,000 annually in freed up RDA taxes is now past the $1.4 million mark and growing. It will keep expanding by at least 2 percent a year and will see sizable jumps when homes and other property are sold or new construction occurs in the old RDA boundaries.
For complete disclosure I’m one of the property owners whose property taxes are still diverted to help pay off the RDA bonds that, among other things, helped build subsidized housing, the Daniels Street extension, the Big League Dreams sports complex, the new Union Road interchange and other amenities.
My basic property tax bill minus bond repayments is $2,209 that is split through various taxing agencies. A proportional cut of what should go to each taxing agency is diverted to help pay off the RDA bonds. The city, in my case, gets almost 18 percent of the property taxes I pay. Rounding that off to 20 percent for simplicity, it is $440. The amount of your overall property tax bill depending upon when the land you live on was annexed to the city varies. It does not sound like much but roughly $40 of the money I pay each year to the city is the “new money” Laughlin referenced.
That means the city, which repeatedly reminds all of us that property taxes don’t cover the costs the city incurs serving households, implemented a plan where they further cut what they collect from me to run day-to-day city services by almost 10 percent.
They will likely argue it goes into the economic reserve and then undesignated reserves and therefore is put to good use. That, however, misses the point by 1,000 miles or so. It is not going to pay for day-to-day services. Instead it is a slush fund of sorts the council can use to stimulate economic development or to expend on one time expenditures such as bronze statues, fancy welcome to Manteca signs, or perhaps items covered in fine Corinthian leather.
That $1.4 million distributed across the general fund expenses would, based in current funding ratios would pump up public safety that gets 62 percent of every general fund dollar expended or $868,000. Roughly that would break down to $578,606 for law enforcement and $289,337 for fire services.
Keep in mind these are dollars that are generated every year with the express purpose of providing services for people who reside in Manteca today.
What could $578,606 mean for the police department? It’s at least two more officers for all of their payroll costs plus a healthy chunk left over for other expenses such as replacement vehicles or maybe even another community service officer.
The fire department could use $289,337 in many different ways including rolling two years together at a time to buy replacement fire engines to update the city’s aging fleet of fire engines.
It is likely other city departments could put their share of the remaining $532,000 to good use.
The city — depending upon which snapshot in time is valid given the mess being straightened out at the finance department — had at one point close to $30 million in reserves putting it almost on hoarder status.
Weaning off the “new money” which it never really was won’t be that hard.
All the next council has to do is direct staff to undo the damage previous councils inflicted on day-to-day municipal services that people depend on by dumping the bad advice given to them by previous city managers.
Instead of topping of the economic reserves and fattening up the undesignated reserves bracing for the Apocalypse, the $1.4 million should be spent annually on day-to-day city services. And since it is a growing number, it can safely be used to fill additional positions.
The city council could even take a somewhat different approach and not break the “new money” down normal department dollar divvying.
The council could in one fell swoop expand the ranks of the Manteca Police Department going forward by five officers. They could pump up street work by $1.4 million a year. They could buy two new fire engines and a new rescue squad one year and fix half-baked amenities such as the skate park and the interactive water play feature at Library Park the next.
No one who pays into the $1.4 million through their property tax should let the city get away with acting like this is “new money” instead of money they diverted away from paying for day-to-day-services.
It is something people like Dave Tenney may want to keep in mind when 2022 roles around and the city goes for another sales tax hike.
It is proof positive that at least a part of their budget woes in terms of funding day-to-day services are self-inflicted.
The opinions are of the editor and not not necessarily reflect those of the Bulletin or 209 Multimedia