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The $2M annual question: How will Manteca staff next two fire stations?
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It is tough to forget 1985.

It was the year the City of Manteca came to grips with the cost of growth.

A building boom was literally burying the city.

Government facilities - and budgets - were not keeping up with skyrocketing demand. Growth-related fees were either woefully inadequate or non-existent.

The city’s reserves had dipped to under $2,000.

“New” police patrol units put into service were used CHP cars with 92,000 miles on them.

The new fire station on Louise Avenue was completed but stood unused for over a year as Manteca could not afford staffing.

It was by far a worse time for the city than its current budget woes. The city literally was on the edge of a financial abyss.

Municipal leaders hadn’t been in denial as much as they allowed growth to get away from them. It is what prompted adoption of the 3.9 percent growth cap - the first of its kind in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. It also put in motion long-range planning for infrastructure and other needs along with the mechanism to make sure growth paid its way.

Manteca now finds itself at another crossroads. The last three years have seen Manteca build more new homes than the rest of San Joaquin County combined. That is not a bad thing. What can be, though, is the demand and expectations those additional residents bring.

Unlike in the mid-1980s, this isn’t a strong economy. Everyone is acutely aware that tax and fee increases in the current economic times could have devastating consequences on consumer spending.

Manteca municipal employees have already taken the painful step of essentially reducing their overall compensation by over 20 percent. That’s in addition to reducing positions and redistributing workload.

It is also highly unlikely that municipal revenues will bounce back to pre-2006 levels any time soon.

That said Manteca’s leaders need to devise a staffing plan in tandem when moving forward with the expansion of fire service.

The $9.5 million the city plans to spend over the next 20 years on two new fire stations, four engines and four vehicles isn’t the big expenditure. It is staffing. Each station represents roughly $1 million annually in manpower staffing.

If the city had the $9.5 million today to spend to put both stations in place, by the year 2031 they will have spent $40 million to staff the station in constant 2011 dollars.

Before the budget rollbacks hit, there was talk of shifting the nine firefighters assigned to the 100-foot aerial platform truck to the Lathrop Road station by Del Webb when it is opened. Unfortunately, that is no longer do-able. The aerial truck staffing is essentially being cannibalized as the city absorbs freighting service retirements in a bid to get spending to match revenue.

Manteca may have to come to the realization that staffing the aerial platform truck 24/7 may not be in the cards for at least 10 years if not longer.

It has everything to do with providing the most effective fire and emergency response within limited resources. There are thousands of households outside the targeted five-minute response time in northwest Manteca that the Lathrop Road station would serve. Del Webb has another 800 homes yet to build. CenterPoint will come into play with distribution tied specifically to the Union Pacific intermodal yard expansion that will get under way in the near future.

A valid argument can be made to build the Lathrop Road station at a cost of $3.5 million as soon as possible even it involves borrowing about $2 million since only $1.5 million is on hand.

It can be justified as being a much more effective deployment of resources.

It would, however, mean relegating the aerial platform trick to non 24/7 status for a long time to come.

The economy will pick up. But given Manteca’s lean and mean approach that has been in place since bouncing back from the near financial disaster in 1985, it needs to be understood upfront that difficult choices need to be made.

If you doubt Manteca is lean and mean consider this: The fire facilities fees are about half of what they are in most cities of comparable size such as Turlock and are almost a third of some similar cities such as Woodland.

Revising fire fees is just one piece of the puzzle - and a relatively inexpensive one at that.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.