Every Manteca City Council candidate says it: Public safety is priority one.
That, of course, is with a couple of caveats. The city needs to act fiscally responsible as well as provide other services.
That said the current council is about to repeat history by referencing the wrong history when it comes to the fifth fire station planned for where Atherton Drive curves south to intersect Woodward Avenue in southeast Manteca
Council members are haunted — rightfully so — by stories of past city mistakes. One example that is repeatedly held up is how the city built the Louise Avenue fire station in the mid-1980s but it sat empty for several years because Manteca lacked the funding to staff it. Manteca failed to have any growth fees of consequence in place at the time to pay for new facilities and retention of sales tax dollars was weak at best. It is a mistake the city doesn’t want to repeat.
However, the mistake they are now on the path of repeating is the Union Road fire station fiasco. The city — after putting in a $350 per home fee for fire stations at the end of the 1980s let it go unadjusted for 13 years. So when the could no longer avoid building the Union Road station due to way too many homes being out of a reasonable response time, they were nearly $2 million short. If it hadn’t been for bonus bucks collected from developers for residential sewer allocation certainity the city used to plug the funding gap, Manteca likely wouldn’t have been able to build the station until 2010 or so.
Here’s the pieces of the puzzle today:
uThere are 1,300 plus homes and growing in southeast Manteca that are outside of the 5 minute response time needed for the best outcome in a medical emergency or fire.
uMore than 90 percent of Manteca’s fire calls each year are medical related. It takes nine firefighters to staff a station with three-man crews 24/7 at an annual cost exceeding $1.2 million once all payroll costs are factored in.
uIt takes six firefighters to man a rescue unit 247/7 or roughly $850,000 a year. Federal funding for six of Manteca’s current firefighters ends in 11½ months.
uIt would take 24 months from today to get the fire station up and running if the council pulled the trigger now.
uThe fifth station is estimated to cost $3.1 million.
uThere is $898,271 in the fire facilities fees account.
uWoodward Park I and II — an Atherton Homes project that has 356 homes expected to sell in three or less years is a stone’s throw away from the station.
uAtherton Homes has agreed to pay $2.6 million in bonus bucks for those homes.
uConstruction inflation is accelerating faster than the inflation index fire fees are tied to.
uA well run city should know the average amount of sales tax a new home generates as well as the property tax based on valuation.
What the council needs to do is show some leadership for a change and put an action plan in place that makes it clear the fire station will be built sooner than later and to address staffing issues now.
The building side should be easy. The council directs staff to have the fire station completed by March 2019. By then the fire facilities account based on a lower growth rate than we are now experiencing will have $1.2 million. Commit bonus bucks from Woodward Park I and II to cover the balance. That should leave $700,000 left over from the bonus bucks paid by the 356 homes to cover a fully equipped $500,000 fire engine that can be ordered a year from now so the city can take delivery of it by March 2019.
As for manning the station, direct that it open initially with a six-man crew. Having 90 percent of your calls covered within five minutes is better than none of them covered. Besides medical emergencies have a much higher tendency to have serious consequences for the physical well-being of Manteca residents when compared to fires.
That makes it clear to staff that a budget priority is to retain the current fire department staffing levels. Ideally a position or two might be covered by Measure M Public Safety Sales Tax. Residential growth will help generate additional general fund dollars. The city should plan on funding them and not wait to see if they can round up federal or state handouts. Looking for a government handout from above is a curious position given the changing climate in Washington, D.C. If they happen to find other funds, fine. If Manteca can’t stand on its own two feet to pay for basic government services such as police and fire then perhaps the real question should be whether we can afford to keep growing given it would mean Manteca must indeed be positioned to repeat both the 1985 fire station mistake and the Union Road fire station mistake.
You can talk all you want but the bottom line is the City Council must step up and make it absolutely clear what they want and exactly how staff needs to go about obtaining it,
Manteca’s elected leaders need to stop operating in a wishy washy Twilight Zone.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.