Are there adults on the Manteca City Council or are we blessed with a bunch of kids turned loose in a toy store whose eyes are bigger than what the pocketbook of their parents can stomach?
It is a legitimate question given the wish list they are compiling based on what council individuals are bringing up plus things they have somewhat of a consensus on: $82 million for recreational facilities, $40 million for a new city hall, $50 million for two more interchange projects on the 120 Bypass, $150 million to restore two interchange projects on Highway 99 the previous council struck because they decided the community could never afford them, $1.28 billion for a railroad trench through Manteca, a blank check for downtown, and who knows what other deficiency — perceived or otherwise — that must be funded besides ongoing expenses such as hiring another platoon of police officers and somehow implementing the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to rebuild Manteca’s streets on the scale the United States rebuilt Europe after World War II.
That doesn’t include capital improvements that aren’t related to sewer, water, or solid waste that are underwritten partially by user fees such as $200 million in excess of major interchange and road projects.
No one is saying what the council is talking about isn’t needed or desired. Nor should it be construed that questioning whether the City Council has a bad case of champagne spending dreams on a production beer income somehow dismisses the value of exploring new options and possibilities for Manteca.
The problem is the current council composition is now 14 months into its two-year term with an election just 10 months away. There is no clear priority of what are the most important capital project endeavors in an actual ranked order, how the city is going to go about making them happen, and exactly how the city is going to pay for them.
What makes it all the more frustrating is we keep hearing how previous councils from the dawn of time has never finished anything or gotten anything done. That said can someone explain Spreckels Park, Costco, Big League Dreams, Great Wolf Resort, snagging Del Webb, the Union Road diverging diamond interchange, securing surface ground water and getting it to Manteca, a wastewater treatment plant that is still state-of-the-art, Woodward Park and a host of other things that make the community more than a wide spot on the road. They’re big initiatives that certainly have been done or are in the process of physically being completed
It is true we have been spinning our collective wheels — or stuck in the mud not even trying to move — when it comes to things like a new city hall, a new library, a performing arts center and more.
But how has that approach changed? With lean and mean staffing levels that obviously are what this community is willing to stomach having the task of running the city and gathering information on various strategies being tossed about for the council to explore to improve the quality of life or the stature of Manteca, how will we be going forward?
There’s been enough of the City of Manteca’s version of Richard Nixon’s secret plan of ending the Vietnam War. Exactly where is this current council taking us? It is a question that should be answered by them sitting down with a list of capital improvement projects wants as well as needs with ballpark cost figures and prioritizing them by assigning numerical importance. It doesn’t mean the city should only pursue one priority at a time, but it needs to be made clear to staff — and the community — what the council’s clear objectives are so that this current council doesn’t do exactly what some council members accuse their predecessors of which is essentially talking big and delivering little. It is not an unreasonable request. Everyone has a finite budget with needs and wants they need to plan for or save to tackle it. If the need for a specific item is deemed essential we find ways to change our spending habits or to increase our income with either a side job or working toward improving our income with a different job or career.
We have been basically lectured by some who are now the proverbial kids in the candy store that the city has been living from paycheck to paycheck — an assertion overwhelming disapproved by the fact all of the reserves of the general fund to run the city on a day-to-day basis are in excess of $20 million — and that they are going to change all that but it is going to cost money and lots of it.
So if the idea is to change Manteca — whether it is perceived issues with the culture at city hall or the manner in which the company grows — what does this mean to what mere mortal Manteca citizens will be able to see, use, and count on and how much is that going to cost us?
That does not mean a detailed game plan. What it means is saying where you are planning on tackling along with ballpark figures and how you expect us to pay for it so everyone who will bother to cast ballots this November and in November 2022 will know where the council stands.
If that doesn’t happen then what Manteca is doing is no different than what Sacramento is doing or even what Washington, D.C., is doing. We run the risk of keep adding expensive initiatives that run the risk of taking away from established needs from being met effectively or creating more endeavors that — to borrow some of the words that have been uttered repeatedly of late in the council chambers — never get completed due to the inability to follow through either with needed financial commitments, the lack of political will, or both.
Unlike the federal government, the city can’t operate with a massive deficit and keep kicking the can down the road. And unlike the state government that has the power to impose various “fees” that are essentially taxes without first getting approval from the voters, cities can’t do so except fees related to recovery costs of providing specific services such as issuing building permits, collecting for proportionate costs created by growth, or keeping enterprise funds covered by users such as water and sewer as well as solid waste collection functioning with balanced budgets.
It’s time for this current council to zero in on a game plan the majority can agree on and act as one.
They need to identify at least the top five priorities that are beyond revamping or expanding day to day services and telling us what they expect of staff within what parameters there are and what it will likely cost us and how they expect us to pay for it.