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Why not chuck police, fire chiefs for public safety director position?
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It is the ultimate diet.

The City of Manteca needs to shed upwards of $4 million in 95 days by removing all the fat while keeping cuts into muscle at a minimum.

Like with all diets, the ones that really work are lifestyle changes. To simply cut calories or dollars makes it all that much easier to simply gain the weight and old spending habits back when you fall off the proverbial wagon.

Here’s collection of “diet” tips and observations that may help the City of Manteca become a lean and mean government machine:

•PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR:  Borrowing a page from the Manteca Unified play book of combining top positions with ones that are vacant, why not have Dave Bricker take over administrative duties for the fire department by making him director of public safety?

•GET OUTSOURCING OFF THE TABLE: Labor is 85 percent of the general fund budget for Manteca. Obviously you are going to have to get the employee groups to play ball one way or another whether it is by reopening contracts to cut compensation or through layoffs. Somehow actively pursuing outsourcing of jobs isn’t exactly conducive to the type of give and take talks that are essential to help the city weather the budget crisis.

•MEASURE M IS THE SAVING GRACE: It was meant to supplement police protection to go after gangs and drugs by expanding the police department. Now the voter approved half cent sales tax is emerging as the key to keeping police with sufficient muscle. That’s actually better than it sounds since cuts are deep in neighboring cities meaning Manteca will be able to keep more pressure on the criminal element in comparison.

The language in Measure M creates a floor that the elected councils can’t go below in terms of general fund support of police services. This is good as no one can make an end run around the public to further cut police services that are already down thanks to 14 vacant positions.

Resident Joe DeAngelis suggested the council ask voters to convert Measure M to a general tax but then they’d be free to do with the money what they want. Measure M gives the voters and taxpayers ultimate accountability. Why weaken it and put future opportunistic leaders in the driver’s seat or some bureaucrat at City Hall?

•APPLES AND ORANGES: It is imperative that city staff – and elected leaders – continue to make sure conversations involving the municipal financial situation are kept clear so apples don’t become oranges.

The State Department of Finance’s estimate in 2004 for the average income of all households in Manteca is $60,700. The city keeps emphasizing that the average city employee costs $100,000 when pay, retirement, and health benefits are factored into the equation. A city employee making $60,000 could cost $100,000 depending upon the department they work in. Police and firefighters, for example, have the city contributing 33 percent of their salary in retirement each year. That’s $19,800 on $60,000 for retirement before adding health benefits.

Average is just that - average. Household income does not include health benefits or retirements. It is simply gross pay. Also keep in mind that household means all people in the household and their gross pay. So a Manteca household with an average income may have two people working in order to reach that amount while a city employee grossing $60,000 – before benefits – actually may make more.

Again, the problem here is average. It is not uniform across the board. One thing for sure is that a $60,700 household income is not the same as $100,000 employee costs that also includes retirement and benefits.

•MESSAGE IS LOUD & CLEAR: Every major employee union had representatives at the citizens’ budget meeting on Thursday and you could tell they were listening.

That is why keeping everything out in the open is a good idea especially to the degree that is occurring with the budget committee.

Extending the committee’s life to help Manteca wrestle with other policies regarding services and the budget is an invaluable tool.