The City of Manteca has a new unofficial municipal motto: “This is the new norm.”
Those five words are a solid sign that the folks running the city clearly understand the dynamics of the economy have changed forever.
There must not be a repeat of the culture that grew in government circles throughout California and the rest of the nation starting in the mid-1990s as the propped up housing market generated a false sense of wealth as money flowed like water into municipal coffers.
And even though there were instances of sanity where someone stopped to take a deep breath during the budget process it lasted for only a few seconds before the dice was rolled again on the expectation revenue would keep rising at a breakneck pace.
Much to Manteca’s credit, they were among the first to grasp the fact the party was over. They put major cuts in place ahead of most other cities to prevent impacts on municipal services from being even more severe. It also allowed Manteca to set the stage for economic growth as the recession recedes.
That is why a growing list of firms are opting to locate in Manteca this year from commercial to industrial concerns that will add at least 200 jobs.
“This is the new norm” serves as the guiding words as department heads as well as rank and file municipal workers look for ways to keep enhancing municipal services with limited resources.
Those are the words Fire Chief Kirk Waters cited last week in explaining a decision to shift the 100-foot aerial platform fire truck later this year from the Union Road station to the Powers Avenue station.
Since 2006, the department has cut back its annual budget by $2.8 million without layoffs of personnel or reducing the number of frontline firefighters. Before the Great Recession started, the department’s administration had a fire chief, four division chiefs, and five people staffing fire prevention. Today there is just the fire chief and a secretary.
There are no division chiefs. Instead, they have been replaced with shift commanders assigned to engine companies.
Firefighters also took significant compensation cuts as did other municipal employees.
Waters and city firefighters devised a way the city could man the fourth station when it opens in September on Lathrop Road by Del Webb without creating major reoccurring costs.
A fire station typically requires nine firefighters to man it 24/7 at a cost of over $1 million annually once salary, benefits, and worker’s compensation costs are factored into the equation.
Under the department’s plan Manteca will shoulder only $125,000 a year in additional costs for one additional firefighter plus $40,000 a year in operational costs for the station for things such as electricity, phone service, and other reoccurring costs.
That will be accomplished by having a fully manned engine with three firefighters 50 percent of the time assigned to the fourth station. The rest of the time it will have a two-man rescue squad.
Waters has noted that it may not be ideal but it is a good start.
As part of that move, the aerial platform truck will be moved to Powers Avenue.
An analysis of needs showed the Powers Avenue engine historically responded to the lowest number of grass fires. At the same time it was closer to the downtown and the Spreckels Business Park - the two biggest areas in the city that the aerial platform truck is designed to be the most effective. Powers Avenue is also still close to freeway access.
Linear thinking would have kept the aerial platform truck at Union Road since the station was designed specifically to house it. But a few minor modifications to the Powers Avenue station will accommodate the bigger fire truck. The result will be maximizing the city’s limited resources even further.
This isn’t actually a new trend for the city.
Looking to save dollars has been a way of life for decades in the Parks and Recreation Department. Long before the Great Recession hit, Parks & Rec workers had the daunting task of caring for significantly more park acreage per employee than in surrounding communities. Manteca got into that situation because leaders pursued a policy of trying to have a neighborhood park with a quarter mile walking distance of every home in Manteca. As a result, Manteca has 55 parks, a number unmatched per capita in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
While those in Sacramento and the nation’s capital still don’t get it, one thing is clear: The winds have changed at 1001 W. Center St.
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.