If there ever was a time for leadership in Manteca, it’s right now.
It is clear there are a multitude of concerns. They range from a minimum $40.9 million shortfall just in the sewer and water enterprise accounts alone when you factor in inter-fund loans that need to be paid back to pressing needs such as deteriorating roads and looming general fund shortfalls.
All is not hopeless. There are a lot of good things in place although not enough to make the boatload of problems sail off into the sunset.
Rate increases for water, sewer, and solid waste are a given. They are not going to be painless.
And while the dust will still be settling as long as the pandemic is upending commerce as well as travel and therefore torpedoing sales and hotel room taxes, some form of new or increased tax will be needed.
The city in fairly short order needs to get a serious grasp on the absolutely basic general fund needs for the next three years and do so before the end of June.
The reason is simple. The next windows for any tax election under state law are June 7 and Nov. 8 in 2022. After that it is 2024. Manteca needs a solid handle on how the general fund will be hit for the next three years in order to set the perimeters for whatever type of tax increase they might seek.
Once they have numbers in hand, they need to have the “discussion” in terms of what they are going to ask for — the bare minimum or a higher number in order to tackle things that aren’t getting accomplished that they believe are pressing or have a high level of community support.
This will not be any easy discussion given it is one that has been skirted for years. Mayor Ben Cantu seems to believe whatever tax is proposed it should be more than survival mode.
The City Council needs to develop a relatively specific road map of what will happen to the money much like the City of Lathrop did before they asked for their tax increase that they secured because they weren’t super vague about how it would be spent on.
Perhaps a legal opinion could be obtained about whether Manteca could legally put two separate tax measures before the voters. One would cover whatever it takes to keep the city whole as it goes forward. The other could be an “add on” that covers whatever needs beyond what the city has been providing and delivering for the last 10 years that the community wants and can stomach covering.
Whatever happens, a decision needs to be reached by this September to allow for a robust community outreach.
And unlike last time around, the City Council’s actively playing the role of civic leaders can’t end simply deciding what ballot language will be put before voters. They will need to invest time in October reaching out to and explaining to other leaders across the community what Manteca is up against.
This will be critical as there is a need to mobilize a small army of people to advocate and educate why any tax increase should be viewed as essential. Once the calendar hits mid-November it becomes difficult to get people’s attention. Even so, those that they enlist to reach out to others in their circles of influence will need to be kept in touch with through the holidays.
A real campaign and not just the 2020 effort of posting information on social media and planting a few yard signs after mail-in voting is going to be needed if there is to be a reasonable shot at passing any tax measure.
Elected officials are not barred from campaigning for tax measures they propose. Manteca can’t afford for them to simply put a measure on the ballot then walk away without saying another word as they did in 2020.
There was no political will in 2020 because no one — except for Mayor Ben Cantu — was actually willing to stick their necks out and talk about the explosive subject of taxes.
Elected officials have only until May 7, 2022 to get their message out before mail-in ballots are sent out. If measures fail June 7, 2022 they need to immediately regroup for the second chance Nov. 8, 2022 election.
After that if a tax proposal fails a third time, it’s another two-year wait.
This is not going to be a pleasant or easy task.
Helping people to even understand the dynamics of how taxes are assessed and collected is critical and will require a lot of effort. It won’t be easy. It is compounded in terms of everyone bringing different values, financial situations, perspectives, and comprehension levels to the table.
If they were listening closely at the start of Tuesday’s Zoom council meeting when the ticking time bomb that is the city’s financial house of cards was masked, they would have heard how difficult the task will be.
Lisa Cummins, a new resident to Manteca, sent a polite comment to the council asking them what they are going to do about crime and the homeless in the community. She obviously isn’t impressed that the crime rate has been dropping in Manteca, nor that the city is in the same boat as many other cities when it comes to the unsheltered.
She shared that between taxes and Mello-Roos assessments that the ability to own a home in Manteca is costing her family $8,000 plus a year in taxes and she expects something to be done.
Not knowing what she paid for her home or where she lives exactly, the payment of Mello-Roos fees for schools and things such as neighborhood park upkeep and landscaping maintenance is likely at least $2,000 a year. That means with the basic tax rate she is likely paying $5,000 a year in taxes in an assessed home value of $500,000.
The odds are great she thinks the bulk of that money is going to the city. If she does, she’s wrong. The city is only getting 15 percent or $750. About half goes to schools. The next big chunk of over 20 percent goes to the county to help pay for welfare, run the county hospital, operate the jail and courts as well as a long list of services the county provides universally to all of its 767,000 residents including those in cities like Manteca.
The rest goes to other government entities such as Delta College.
Once she understands that is the reality, she still may not be any more likely to vote for a tax increase.
But it is certain unless she understands how she is taxed and knows the legal restrictions that are placed on the money collected you won’t have a chance at convincing her to vote “yes.”
Toss in the fact without a clear spending plan that isn’t super broad, you are going to have a hard time convincing her as well.
It is safe to assume almost none of financial problems Manteca is facing today are the direct result of actions taken or not taken by the five current council members.
They are, however, the five that hold the key to crafting and advocating for a plan to ultimately resolve the poisonous hand they’ve inherited.
They have a duty to place all the financial facts on the table, patiently explain the laws that cities must follow, detail in relatively specific and not broad brush terms on how taxes would be spent, and then let the voters decide.
If voters opt to reject the cure, it then would not be the fault of the council but rather a decision made by the electorate with all information in hand.
The City Council is between the proverbial rock and hard place with everyone on both sides ready to stone them for any action they take not of which the least is advancing a tax measure proposal and then actually working for its passage.
And if they do nothing they will also be stoned.
Now that the financial bad news has been delivered the real work begins. The clock is ticking down to June 7, 2022.
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 email@example.com