The bad news about the pending rate hike that will take monthly solid waste bills in Manteca to $63.07 a month by 2027?
It might actually be the good news.
That’s because the city is preparing to deliver two more solid punches to your wallet.
Those punches are in the form of water and sewer rate increases.
Unlike solid waste rates that were last adjusted in 2016, water and sewer rates haven’t been adjusted for 14 years.
There were rate studies for both municipal utility services done in 2009 and adopted with a four-year phase in.
But then the Great Recession hit.
The City Council, at the time, suspended the scheduled rate hike. They proceeded to do the same for the next four years.
The reason they gave for doing so? They wanted to help Manteca households hard hit by the Great Recession and the collapsing housing market.
The council’s ability to do so without crippling either water or sewer service at the time was made possible by a 20 percent cut in labor costs.
Even though water and sewer — just like solid waste — are enterprise accounts meaning they are designed so ratepayers pick up 100 percent the costs, it was decided that a 20 percent citywide reduction in labor costs would apply to both general fund and enterprise fund employees.
It was a gesture of solidarity that the city employee bargaining units agreed to do in order to share the pain. The bottom line was that it blunted the need for layoffs of co-workers.
Instead of cutting back roughly 20 percent of the work force, only a few workers lost their jobs.
The big exception was the Manteca Police Officers Association. The bargaining unit declined to take the salary cutback which was a combination of forgoing negotiated raises in the ensuing several years as well as trimming back current pay at the time.
As a result, 11 police officers were furloughed.
The 20 percent labor cost cutback matched a plunge in revenue.
In the general fund there were still a few positions that were cut besides the 11 police officers.
The enterprise funds such as sewer and water were left intact for the most part.
That said, the rates — had they been implemented instead of suspended — would have provided the funding needed to cover current wages at the time as well as negotiated pay increases going forward for the sewer and water workers.
But that would have gone against the grain of city workers at the time — except for police officers — that wanted everyone in the “city government family” to be on the same footing going forward.
As such, the council had an opportunity to provide “relief” for Manteca households by not implementing sewer rate increases.
Then as Manteca started recovering from the recession, things started to go off the rails.
The fact the city manager’s office was a one-person show started to come into play.
Other cities Manteca’s size at the time had either an assistant city manager or an assistant city manager and a deputy city manager.
Their jobs were to make sure various departments they were assigned to oversee on behalf of the city manager were operating effectively, working together, and following the goals established by the council.
Because such positions didn’t exist, when Manteca started playing musical chairs with the city manager’s office and even department heads, institutional knowledge went out the window. And there were no “underlings” in the city manager’s office in an administrative position to keep the rapid succession of new bosses apprised of issues and/or to make sure things kept running according to plan.
As such, no one remembered the fact the council had held the scheduled rate hikes in abeyance.
That meant they were suspended only temporarily until such time they were implemented. As a result rate hikes approved in 2009 as a way to keep water and sewer services solvent were never implemented even on a delayed basis.
Then — after the departure of Suzanne Mallory as finance director — the wheels fell off the finance department.
It is when various municipal departments started keeping ledgers on their own separate from the city’s general ledger.
During that time is when interfund loans — done without the knowledge or blessing of elected officials and that have to be paid back – were made to fund sewer and water projects such as expensive capital replacement endeavors replacing failing main pipelines.
That means the city now has a decade plus of not keeping up with inflation and labor costs and not having funds set aside to handle significant upgrades and equipment replacement needed as the sewer and water treatment and distribution systems age.
On top of that is the city needs to pay back the millions borrowed over the years to fund sewer and water projects.
As a yardstick of sorts for what lies ahead for sewer and water, the 2016 solid rate hike that took the cost of a 65-gallon cart from $25.49 to $32.61 for a $7.12 month increase was jarring at the time given the city had gone 11 years without raising solid waste rates.
In other words, this isn’t the city’s first rodeo at dealing with rates that are subject to annual inflation and employee pay and benefit increases that have gone unadjusted for more than a decade.
The odds are strong that when the dust settles in the next year, no household’s municipal utility bill — except for qualified low-income seniors — won’t exceed $160 a month by 2027.
The proposed monthly sewer rate by 2027 is $63.07.
The current sewer flat rate is $43.30 while the city’s base water rate is $17.15.
Even before increases to sewer and water and adding in actual water consumption charges, your 2027 base municipal utility bill will be $123.52 a month. And even if by some miraculous more than 50 percent of the city’s ratepayers protest against solid waste increase, it will go into effect anywhere.
That’s because everything the city is proposing to do is to cover not just basic health and safety needs to remove garbage but to comply with state mandates.
That means if the rates as proposed don’t go into effect, the general fund that supports police and fire as well as other services would be cannibalized to make it happen.
Rest assured, you will be told that the garbage rate hike Manteca will now experience will also occur on a similar scale in other cities whether they have municipal city service or are served by a private collection contractor.
It will be of little comfort each month when you’re transferring your utility payment to city accounts .
That said, the fact Manteca is among the first cities taking the proverbial bull by the horns and is doing so by controlling the collection system, it will likely provide Manteca’s residents with a somewhat lighter financial hit in the end given no one can escape Sacramento’s dictates.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org