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Was council misled or did those pulling down the big bucks not think it through?

The road to fiscal hell is paved with good intentions.

Such is the case with the grand gesture made by city management with the blessing of their bosses — the five men and women we elected to wisely spend our hard-earned tax dollars — to show their appreciation to city employees.

The gesture was to give them more time with their families at the holidays. It’s is time that was beyond what they earned under the terms of bargaining unit contracts negotiated in good faith. There is little doubt Manteca has dedicated, hardworking, and effective workers. But that is not the point.

The City Council — on the advice of the municipal management team saying it will have “no fiscal impact”— played Santa Claus and gave the 350 plus city employees three extra days off. The rationale was that the grateful city workers would simply eat into accrued vacation and personal days to accept the gift. (At least it had better be what happens because if this deal isn’t coming out of their vacation bank, this is highway robbery.) Come to think of it, that really is not a gift. It is a forced vacation requiring you to use up earned vacation or personnel leave time.

But that’s not the rub. In order for everyone to be treated “fairly” those forced to work on Dec. 23, 26 and 27 to patrol the streets, fight fires, make sure the garbage is picked up, and also monitor things so our toilets will keep flushing as “essential employees” were be given three floating days off to be used  by July 1, 2020. Ideally this would mean their work would be handled by others when they take their floating holidays. But minimal staffing requirements, especially with police likely will result in the city bringing in someone to work overtime at time and a half for some if not many of the police officers.

The grand gesture, the council was told, would have no fiscal impact. That declaration was in the form of a staff report they were presented last Tuesday.

To be clear no is defined by dictionaries as “not any”. That means “no fiscal impact” is the same as “not any fiscal impact”.

The council bought it hook, line and sinker.

Five days later, city management doubled down. In statement it was noted, “this additional time granted will result in no additional fiscal impact as a result of the granting of these floating holidays to city staff. The floating holidays will have no monetary value, in and of themselves, and will lapse in July 1, 2020, if not used.”

Remember, dear taxpayer you are told there “is no additional fiscal impact as the result of the granting of these floating holidays.” Yet in the very next paragraph of the city’s statement we are told “for emergency staff, the additional floating holidays might require coverage which could lead to overtime costs but quantifying an amount is difficult and the possible costs are unknown.”

No fiscal impact — as the council was told in the original staff report — is not a “maybe” or a “however if” proposition. No means and implies “no.” The city staff just five days after lulling the council into submission by assuring them the floating days off gift won’t cost a penny and will make everybody happy (except perhaps taxpayers who keep asking for the city to fix streets), has placed an asterisk at the end of the “no fiscal impact” declaration.

And in case whoever is running the city finance department these days and assuming they are the ones that made the “no fiscal impact” declaration, the potential impact isn’t all that hard to quantify.

You take the worst case scenario and assume all police officers when they take their floating holidays will need to have someone cover their shift meaning overtime pay at time and a half.

The city takes similar measures when it budgets other personnel expenses. City council health insurance benefits are a prime example.

What the city does is figure the maximum cost of all benefits offered council members. Let’s say it comes to $12,000 per person. Prudent fiscal management would require you to show a potential $60,000 liability in your budged expenses. That’s because of all five council members took maximum health benefits the cost would be $60,000.

The reality may be less. That’s because some council members may already have existing coverage that is better and opt not to take it. However, you need to budget for the maximum expense exposure that the city has committed its self to. That way you are budgeting and not simply crossing your fingers.

Now let’s get to the main event.

The city management staff has also argued there will be no fiscal impact because they have already budgeted for overtime.

Given we are told there is no cost to the floating holidays, why is there a need to point out money has already been set aside for overtime?

The answer is simple. Senior staff from the get-go knew there would be costs incurred to pull off the grand holiday gesture.

What is all of the huffing and puffing about if the city has potential costs covered with the overtime that is budgeted?

If people at 1001 West Center Street weren’t so focused on chopping heads, they might have bothered to get a better grasp on the overtime budget especially for police and fire.

Back in May the current council that is now in place and not a previous council, bought into the current fiscal year budget plan after an extensive discussion of city overtime costs.

A chunk of police overtime deals with court appearances on an officer’s scheduled day off, involves a major crime that is taking place at the end of a shift that requires the investigating officer to stay on, or murder or similar event that requires calling in detectives is unavoidable. Staffing issues triggered by illness, workman’s compensation issues, and even vacations can be difficult to handle at times without occurring overtime.

To illustrate how costly overtime can be, in 2017-18 when the city paid out $1,258,412 to police personnel for overtime work, the overall salaries of the 65 officers at the time came to $8,616,314. Overtime was equivalent of 14 percent of the salaries paid.

In the fiscal year we are now in police salaries were budgeted at $10,346,901 while overtime was projected to come in at $839,000 or 8 percent of the regular salaries. The savings of $350,000 in projected overtime is covering a chunk of the $994,000 in increased police salaries that reflect an additional officer, a full year salary of two positrons that were added past the midway point of the previous fiscal year, as well as step increases and wage hikes officers.

Coverage of three floating holidays per officer that — if they required someone to work overtime every time they are used would come to $141,525 for 77 officers paid an average of $41.93 an hour when they are working straight time was never part of the budget process.

Yes, money is budgeted for overtime but not for the expressed purpose of playing Santa Claus with tax dollars and certainly not $141,525. If all of those floating holidays require another police officer working time and a half to cover, it will eat up a sixth of the OT budget for police. There is no way the police department can possibly guarantee there will not be overtime due to the council playing Santa.

This council has only one real choice. They must own up to the fact they were either hoodwinked or someone didn’t think this one through.

They need to step up and walk this decision back. That will mean the council saying to the 350 plus dedicated city employees that the council made a big mistake and rescind the grand gesture.

It was a wildly irresponsible fiscal move that — if left standing — will not bode well for fiscal soundness or endure taxpayers to the current management at city hall.