Manteca Bulletin - - Front Page - DEN­NIS WY­ATT Ed­i­tor

Great Wolf deal may help Man­teca catch up on ser­vices

If you want more ser­vices — po­lice, fire­fight­ers, street main­te­nance and such — and don’t want to pay more taxes then you’d best root for the City of Man­teca and Great Wolf Re­sorts to strike a fi­nal deal. The rea­son is sim­ple. City ser­vices aren’t cost free. Some­one has to pay for them.

Much ado is made about “the mess” and how it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of spend­ing pri­or­i­ties to sort things out. Since the city can’t print money, what do you cut? Maybe shut the li­brary and sell of a cou­ple of parks to pay for two more of­fi­cers? Cut a fire­fighter or two to free up more money to fix streets? Elim­i­nate Parks & Re­cre­ation ser­vices to fix al­leys?

While you can al­ways find ways to do things more ef­fi­ciently via tech­nol­ogy, time man­age­ment and em­pow­er­ment strate­gies as well as har­ness­ing the ser­vices of vol­un­teers, let’s be hon­est. Man­teca al­ready had the low­est staffing ra­tio for com­pa­ra­ble cities when it comes to po­lice, fire­fight­ers and street main­te­nance staffing. Parks and Re­cre­ation crews al­ready main­tain sig­nif­i­cantly more park acreage per worker than in neigh­bor­ing cities. And while clear­ing the bu­reau­cratic process of weedy and un­wieldy reg­u­la­tions may speed up some pro­cesses, it still won’t free a lot of money to hire more po­lice or fire.

The sins of City Fa­thers be­fore the Great Re­ces­sion were rooted in their fail­ure to scale back spend­ing or in­crease taxes as city pay­roll costs were soar­ing while scor­ing po­lit­i­cal points by drop­ping the city’s $2.35 per month util­ity tax. It was masked by their ad­dic­tion to bonus bucks col­lected from de­vel­op­ers in re­turn for sewer al­lo­ca­tion cer­tainty. The city burned through $11.9 mil­lion in bonus bucks to keep the gen­eral fund whole that cov­ers the cost of day-to-day govern­ment while push­ing the line that the ad­di­tional cost slapped onto the price of a home was col­lected on the premise of growth help­ing pro­vide ad­di­tions ameni­ties.

It wasn’t an in­ten­tional move. But much like drug ad­dicts they couldn’t see the prover­bial for­est for the trees. Then Man­teca got into a hole as other cities did when the rescis­sion hit. Toss in the loom­ing pen­sion cost crush and you have Man­teca’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

Man­teca’s lead­er­ship — elected and other­wise — spent the past 10 years dig­ging the city out from un­der un­in­tended con­se­quences of the pre­vi­ous 15 years. It was much like the ad­just­ment af­ter the city teth­ered on the abyss of bankruptcy in 1985 but with a big caveat: The rules of en­gage­ment as dic­tated by state and fed­eral decrees had changed.

Govern­ment tax­ing and spend­ing should be straight for­ward, but it isn’t. Some blame it on Propo­si­tion 13. In re­al­ity it is the con­tor­tion that politi­cians went through to pla­cate vot­ers af­ter the fact as well as the in­ven­tive ma­nip­u­la­tion ca­reer bu­reau­crats came up with to keep the state whole at the ex­pense of lo­cal govern­ment. If you want an ex­am­ple of in­san­ity, just ask a city fi­nance di­rec­tor to ex­plain the State of Cal­i­for­nia’s “triple flip” that hi­jacked lo­cal sales tax in­ter­est free when lo­cal govern­ments were forced to make staffing cuts and the state kept on hir­ing.

While other cities were wor­ried solely about tread­ing wa­ter a decade ago, Man­teca cut­back as well but they also looked to the fu­ture to try and find a way out of the abyss and to as­sure they could make the city as im­mune as pos­si­ble to the fi­nan­cial rav­ages Sacra­mento im­poses.

It is when the idea of tap­ping into taxes gen­er­ated by vis­i­tors’ dol­lars was born.

Put aside any dis­taste you may have for split­ting tax rev­enue with a pri­vate en­ter­prise for a minute in the name of be­ing prag­matic. Great Wolf is Man­teca’s Great Hope for a new day.

The con­ser­va­tive num­bers call for Man­teca to see a net gain of $1.7 mil­lion an­nu­ally to the gen­eral fund pri­mar­ily through its share of room taxes re­sort guests will pay af­ter the first full year of oper­a­tion.

If the city then takes the room tax from the cur­rent 9 per­cent in Man­teca to the av­er­age 13.5 per­cent charged in most north state lo­cales, the city would see an ad­di­tional $2.85 mil­lion a year. That in­cludes $2.35 mil­lion more from Great Wolf and $500,000 from other city ho­tels that col­lected in ex­cess of $1 mil­lion in room taxes last year.

That’s $4.5 mil­lion more a year rolling into the gen­eral fund. The amount grows slightly each year then jumps sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter 25 years when the tax split be­comes his­tory. Not that all of the money should go to po­lice, but that’s enough to add 23 po­lice of­fi­cers or in­crease the cur­rent force by a third.

Mean­while an­other tax split deal is near­ing the end. It hap­pens to be with Costco that would be Great Wolf’s neigh­bor should the deal go through. The city en­tered into a sales tax split with Costco to get them to drop plans to build an­other store in a nearby com­mu­nity and to come to Man­teca in­stead. What was at stake was hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in sales tax Man­teca res­i­dents were spend­ing at the chain’s stores in Tracy and Modesto based on data tracked by Costco.

Costco wanted a per­ma­nent tax split. Man­teca of­fered a tax split un­til the firm’s $10 mil­lion in­vest­ment in Man­teca was re­couped. That will hap­pen in the next 20 months or so. When it does, an­other $600,000 plus a year flows into the gen­eral fund of the equiv­a­lent of just over three more po­lice of­fi­cers.

If Man­teca’s lead­er­ship is crazy then they are crazy like a fox.

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