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The ‘Z’ factor: Mayor Cantu is not what ails Manteca regarding city amenities & services
Here’s a penny for your thoughts on Measure Z on the Nov. ballot.

Ben Cantu is perceived by some as the anti-Howard Jarvis.

They believe if the mayor is left to his own devices that he’ll spend Manteca into oblivion.

Some go as far as to contend Measure Z as proposed is a bid to raise capital to cover endless lawsuits on the horizon supposedly for somehow the mayor masterminding every perceived ill-fated decision in the history of the City of Manteca since Joshua Cowell took the oath as the first mayor 102 years ago.

They reel in horror when he suggests Manteca’s problems today stem from previous city leaders being too conservative. Cantu speaks the truth.

Given how we all instantaneously equate conservative to being fiscally responsible we can’t equate his pronouncement to anything other than the basic act of spending money. Cantu understands the term “conservative” not in the pure fiscal sense but as those afraid to put themselves out there as in making themselves a political target for dare speaking the truth.

From 1985 to 2005 and beyond elected city leaders as a collective group steered clear of making sure fees on growth reflected their fair share of the expenses they caused not because developers implored them not to raise the fees that are passed on to home buyers but because they didn’t want to be perceived as increasing “taxes” even though paying to buy into infrastructure that existing residents paid for or went into debt collectively to provide so one can buy a new home here is hardly a tax.

The 1990s saw how conservative councils forced the draining of the general fund in excess of $1 million. Those men — and one woman — prided themselves for not raising green fees on the golf course for years. That was despite two different city managers —Dave Jinkens and Bob Adams — advising them green fees needed to be raised to avoid the golf course from taping into the general fund. The city managers were told by council members they had no appetite to raise fees with an election coming up. Of course there was always an election coming up.

In 1998 the council — without getting a legal opinion over whether a utility user fee imposed in the late 1980s was unconstitutional with the passage of Proposition 218 in 1996 or exercising an option to allow voters to decide whether to keep it — eliminated the utility users tax that was $2.35 a month for residential customers. They also refunded two years’ worth of taxes. To date, that has resulted in an accumulative tax cut in excess of $20 million.

Anyone want to take a wild guess when Manteca started slipping behind on law enforcement manpower? Proportionately in the first year after the utility tax was cut, police funding took a proportional $400,000 hit or enough at the time to hire four officers.

Just before the turn of the century developers gave a gift to “conservatives” among council members and top municipal management tasked by elected leaders to turn straw into gold in a bid to provide more services without increasing taxes. It was in the form of bonus bucks in exchange for sewer allocation certainty for new homes.

The council was free to spend the money as they pleased. City leaders told the public that it would be used to fund amenities on the back of growth.

What happened, however, was more than $11.7 million of $30 million plus in bonus bucks collected went to balance the general fund so the city could provide more services without raising taxes.

Cantu also zeroes in on the “big deals” every 10 years or so that give the city a shot in the arm — bonus bucks, the Costco and Bass Pro Shops sales tax split, and Great Wolf. His point is pulling a rabbit out of the hat every 10 years isn’t cutting it except, perhaps, to allow the city to tread water.

There is an inconvenient truth few want to hear. Municipal services that are needs and amenities that are wants cost money. Taxes are how cities are funded.

Measure Z on the Nov. 3 ballot that would increase sales tax a full cent on the dollar isn’t a necessity if you are willing to either have service levels unchanged or drop as unfunded pension liabilities and increasing labor costs eat away and the general fund.

Opposing Measure Z simply because you are against new taxes is fine. Being against new taxes and then railing against the city for not providing more amenities or sustaining service levels is a stance taken by someone in the Twilight Zone of reasoning.

The only way to justify such a stance is to accuse the city of gross waste, fraud, and careless decisions which some are now doing.

Given this has been going on now for 30 plus years with a tax cut in 1998 it is amazing Manteca can turn on the street lights let alone have a fire engine that operates and isn’t dependent 100 percent on non-paid volunteers to respond to medical calls.

The exception, of course, is the Measure M half cent sales generating $6 million a year to pay the salaries and benefits of 15 firefighters and 17 police officers. Had that tax not been passed 14 years ago by voters Manteca would have 25 percent less police officers and a third less firefighters today.

Even though Measure Z doesn’t have a specific mandated spending plan, there is a way spending decisions can be vetoed or reversed. It’s called a municipal election and it happens every two years.

None of this should be interpreted to dismiss legitimate concerns about whether current spending can’t be tweaked. But there is only such much juice you can squeeze out of an orange.

People disagree with a lot of Cantu’s initiatives. Sometimes he seems to be off on a tangent talking about the need to make a grand statement with bronze statues when what most people care about are not getting whiplash from washboard pavement and potholes.

But the one truth he speaks can’t be disputed. If people keep saying they want certain things provided by the city, Cantu is correct in saying they are going to have to pay new taxes to make things happen.

That said, the biggest fault with Measure Z is that city leaders failed to make a specific case on how the money would be spent.

In 2006 when the city did that they got 70 percent of the voters to support Measure M, a half-cent sales tax restricted to public safety taxing.

Two years prior in 2004 they asked for a half cent sales tax saying the city needed more police officers but offered no language on restricting how the additional money would be spent. The measure needs on 50 percent plus one vote to pass. It only garnered 17 percent of the votes cast in support.

Because they didn’t restrict how the taxes will be spent there are two questions you need to ask yourself before casting your vote on Measure Z.

Do you think the city needs to have stepped up spending across the board and do you trust the people we elected two years and those that we will select on Nov. 3 to spend any new taxes appropriately?