Land­scape main­te­nance districts need to be han­dled by con­trac­tors

Ripon Bulletin - - Front Page - DENNIS WY­ATT Editor This col­umn is the opin­ion of ex­ec­u­tive editor, Dennis Wy­att, and does not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent the opin­ion of The Bul­letin or Mor­ris News­pa­per Corp. of CA. He can be con­tacted at dwy­att@man­te­cab­ul­letin.com or 209.249.3519.

It is time for the City of Man­teca to get out of the land­scape main­te­nance district busi­ness when it comes to the man­ual la­bor as­pects. In do­ing so it will: ►Cre­ate en­try level jobs. ►Free up city per­son­nel that can be as­signed to park up­keep and a wide ar­ray of other city needs from down­town up­keep to ar­eas that the city owns that they can’t seem to weed un­til five months after they’ve or­dered everyone else to abate weeds.

►Help re­duce ex­penses for those pay­ing into land­scape main­te­nance districts.

Land­scape main­te­nance districts, or LMDs, are tax­ing districts cre­at­ing to pay for the up­keep and main­te­nance of sound wall and com­mon land­scap­ing ar­eas con­nected with spe­cific sub­di­vi­sions. Com­bined the districts gen­er­ate well over $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally. All but a hand­ful are pub­lic LMDs mean­ing the city over­sees them.

Up un­til about a decade ago, the LMDs were main­tained by sev­eral con­tracted land­scap­ing firms. The city, when queried after the num­ber reached 36 districts, in­di­cated that it wasn’t cost ef­fi­cient to bring the LMD in house.

But that is ex­actly what they did sev­eral years later when the econ­omy went into the toi­let, city rev­enues dropped and the city was look­ing for in­no­va­tive ways to save mu­nic­i­pal jobs. Be­sides shift­ing street sweep­ing jobs from the gen­eral fund to solid waste, parks jobs with shifted to the LMDs.

That mean the land­scap­ing firms — that the city had no prob­lems with — were ter­mi­nated. Be­cause there were less city em­ploy­ees as­signed due to per hour costs they worked on find­ing ways to do things more ef­fi­ciently.

Gen­er­ally things are OK with the LMDs but I can rat­tle off more than a few trees that haven’t been re­placed over the years. Peo­ple are be­ing taxed on the premise things are be­ing main­tained and not re­duced in scope.

City work­ers make much more money than some­one work­ing for a land­scap­ing com­pany. They also have ben­e­fits in­clud­ing the big ele­phant in the room — city pay­ments into the Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees Re­tire­ment Sys­tem.

The odds are great pri­vate firms can once again main­tain the LMDs, put more peo­ple to work, still do it as well and re­duce ex­penses to help keep costs down.

The city needs to shift the LMD em­ploy­ees to park up­keep and an end­less list of other mu­nic­i­pal up­keep needs in­clud­ing step­ping up the city’s game in down­town in gen­eral and deal­ing with large un­sightly trash, some of which is home­less re­lated and some that isn’t.

Imag­ine hav­ing two work­ers that can im­prove main­te­nance and care of pub­lic ar­eas in down­town and else­where on an on­go­ing ba­sis.

As the city grows the po­si­tions can be re­ab­sorbed into the gen­eral fund over two to three years as LMDs are put out to bid.

It will not lower the stan­dard of up­keep. If a pri­vate con­trac­tor doesn’t do the job, re­place them.

There is lit­tle doubt the city is un­der­staffed when it comes to park main­te­nance by vir­tu­ally ev­ery yard­stick. There are also other press­ing qual­ity of life is­sues. Why not up Man­teca’s game and cre­ate new jobs at the same time?

If the econ­omy dives again, the city could al­ways shuffle po­si­tions back into LMDs

But what is now hap­pen­ing is the city — which was un­der­staffed to be­gin with on park main­te­nance and other re­lated con­cerns — is mask­ing a real short­fall prob­lem in staffing

There were more than two dozen prop­er­ties that are mu­nic­i­pally owned that are not abated of weeds in a timely and con­sis­tent man­ner. Think of what it would be like to have more man­power de­voted to main­tain­ing the over­all looks of the city.

Work done by city em­ploy­ees such as lawn mow­ing, sprin­kler work, and weed­ing are charged off to LMDs.

As­sum­ing the city is do­ing it right, there is a hefty sur­charge on each city em­ployee that works in a LMB that is built into the an­nual as­sess­ment. If a worker is mak­ing $16 an hour, the city is easily pay­ing $4 to $6 more an hour for ben­e­fits, re­tire­ment, and other pay­roll costs that an em­ployee of a land­scape main­te­nance firm wouldn’t in­cur.

A land­scape firm worker mak­ing $11 an hour costs the LMD be­tween $10 and $11 an hour less be­cause of what the firm isn’t pay­ing the em­ployee. That means a pri­vate sec­tor firm can have two work­ers com­pared to one city worker for the same amount of money. Since pay scales are ac­tu­ally higher for city work­ers, than means ev­ery city worker equals 2 to 4 pri­vate sec­tor work­ers.

If the city isn’t charg­ing off the PERS and ben­e­fits for the city work­ers as­signed to LMD work, then the LMD prop­erty own­ers aren’t be­ing charged for all of the cost of the LMD mean­ing the gen­eral fund is il­le­gally sub­di­vi­sion the LMD.

Ei­ther reach way, the city is stick­ing it to some­one — the tax­pay­ers or the LMD prop­erty own­ers.

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