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Manteca council needs to give voters a chance in 2024 to decide if they want to have more police
A Manteca Police traffic officer pulls over a speeder.

It is time for Manteca’s elected leaders to ask for a tax increase.

They should not approach the subject as if proposing a tax is akin to committing political suicide.

To get the ball rolling they do not need to first hire a consultant to tell them they need more revenue.

Nor should they wait for key staff to suggest the council explore the possibility.

They need to start laying the groundwork now.

The tax needs to go exclusively to augment frontline public safety personnel with wording that emphasizes the areas of community concerns.

It needs to be structured in such a manner that the tax expires after it is in place for 20 years.

And  most important of all — if needs to be restricted and detailed enough that there is a yardstick that it can be measured against to make sure the city staff and future councils entrusted with carrying out the goal of the tax if it is adopted to do so in the right manner

To not propose a tax that voters ultimately  have final say on whether to impose it is an abdication of the fiduciary responsibly an elected council member — mayor or otherwise — they have to serve in the best interests of the people that are elected to represent.

Why that is their fiduciary obligation is clear.

Public safety is the biggest need a community has when it comes to general fund expenditures. It is in place to protect lives, to help ensure public safety, and to bring order and reduce chaos by  enforcing quality of life concerns required to maintain civility when 90,000 or so people congregate as they do in Manteca day in and day out.

Every council member who has served on the City Council to the man — and  woman — have clearly inferred  when they were running for office that Manteca needs to hire more public safety personnel to step up its game.

And after they are elected they agree that is still the case but then come to the conclusion as those before them the city doesn’t have the adequate funds to hire more without severely crippling other needed municipal services.

The recent move to impose an annual police and fire fee on new construction in designated community facility  districts to bridge the funding shortfall changing needs and growth creates is a step in the  right direction.  

It is, however, the easiest step and one that won’t move the needle too far.

In order to make a noticeable difference; the council needs to take the plunge and do so all the way in seeking a tax. While they need to be cautious in how the tax proposal is framed, if they are timid in their commitment they will become part of the problem and not part of the solution as so many council members have been before them when it comes to public safety staffing.

That’s because not once has the city adopted a general fund budget that has ever successfully addressed public safety concerns beyond just simply getting by.

The big exception is Measure M, the existing half cent public safety tax adopted in 2006 with 70 percent of the voters embracing it

 The council could task the Measure M Public Safety Tax Citizens Oversight Committee with outlining the need.

This is important because simply adding police officers and firefighters is still a blank check of sorts.

Voters in 2006 embraced language that placed a priority on addressing gang problems that were rampant at the time as well as expanding the school resource officer program to ensure campus safety.

The result was Manteca came back from the gang abyss. There are no longer a drive-by shooting every night or so as what occurred back in the summers 16 to 17 years ago.

The SRO program was not only stepped up but when a former city manager tried to alter that aspect of the tax funding which would have undermined the directive of the people, he was blocked from doing so with the threats of a lawsuit.

That is the kind of built-in assurance most taxpayers would like to see when they part with their hard earned cash in order to build a better and safer community.

Stepping up traffic enforcement could be one initiative the committee might recommend in the language. They could also address the potential the staffing mix could include community resource officers that would have the power to go after everything from illegal truck movements and parking to helping take quality of life laws to the next level when the homeless navigation center is up and running.

The committee, going forward, could provide a venue to educate the public of the staffing situation, the needs, and what a limited 20-year sales tax could do.

Councilman Gary Singh has already offered a tax proposal that could serve as a starting point.

It is designed to cover shortfalls in funding for Manteca’s biggest single ongoing expense — police and fire services that account for 62 percent of general fund expenses.

If it  is placed on the ballot and approved in the 2024 election, the 20-year measure would parallel the remaining years of the Great Wolf tax sharing agreement.

The  20-year quarter-cent sales tax would allow the hiring of at least:

*Nine firefighters — enough to  man a second engine company out of the Union Road fire station and avoid building a $6 million station elsewhere.

*Nine  police officers. That would allow almost enough additional officers to obtain the 1 per 1,000 residents officer manpower that some say should be the goal in Manteca. And it would be beyond what additional annual jumps in general fund spending would add to police manpower.

If approved the city, at the end of 20 years, there would have no need to try and renew the quarter cent sales tax increase because the Great Wolf room tax sharing would end two decades after 2024.

In constant 2022 dollars that would mean an additional $5.1 million would start flowing into the city’s general fund. Measure M — the half cent public sales tax now in place — is more than enough to fund 18 firefighters and 18 police officers. A quarter of a cent in in 2022 dollars and costs would fund 9 police and 9 firefighters for $4.3 million.

That means the end of the sales tax the city would be able to keep all of the additional public safety positions and have money left over from its take from Great Wolf room taxes.

 By wedding it with the timeline of the Great Wolf deal expiring, the city can pump up public safety in the next few years and do so without an ongoing tax in place after 2044.

Meanwhile, the city for the next 21 years will still be able to augment the general fund with its portion of room taxes it receives under the 25-year Great Wolf deal before all of it goes to the city.

Such a temporary tax approach doesn’t rely on what some have described as “wishful thinking” that there is money in the current general fund  for public safety staffing beyond current levels.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at