Cantu foresees city service cuts without a one cent tax hike



Mayor Ben Cantu has a dire prediction: Manteca residents may need to brace for cutbacks in city services as they did 14 years ago as the Great Recession deepened.

The mayor delivered an uninterrupted soliloquy of sorts during Tuesday’s council meeting expressing disappointment as all of his colleagues were essentially passing on a proposal to seek a one cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Cantu — after noting a poll the city paid a consultant to conduct showed more than 52.5 percent of the people surveyed said they supported an unrestricted sales tax hike meaning the city could spend increased revenue as they see fit — essentially warned the city was heading for a repeat of 2008.

That’s when the city slashed salaries by more than 20 percent and laid off 12 police officers.

“It took Manteca more than 10 years to (hire back) 12 police officer positions,” Cantu pointed out.

Under California law only voters can decide the fate of a sales tax measure. Such ballot measures can only be placed on general election ballots.

To qualify for next general election on Nov. 8, the council would have had to vote to place the measure om the ballot in the coming weeks.

The next opportunity will be the 2024 election cycle. If such a measure was placed on the ballot at that time and approved by voters, the first revenue from such a hike would make its way into municipal coffers by late 2025 at the earliest.

Cantu argued, if voters were given a choice, they’d be willing to pay “an extra cent to buy a can of beans” than to see police, fire, street maintenance and other services slashed as happened in 2008.

And while most groceries aren’t taxable under California law, Cantu believes most people would rather part with several cents more a day when they buy taxable goods to make sure an anticipated economic downturn doesn’t dilute the delivery of municipal services.

His colleagues, including Charlie Halford, disagreed with the timing of making such a request this November.

They pointed to gas that is still hovering around $6 a gallon, high inflation, rising housing costs, and the growing prospect of a recession among other economic concerns that they believed would spell the certain death of a sales tax proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Halford also countered Cantu’s history lesson in noting that he had seen three similar periods in his 30 plus years of either working for the city as a planner or observing its operations where the city cut staffing and services due to a failure to ask for more revenue in economic downturns.

Halford, whose tenure with the city that ended with his retiring as police chief and municipal involvement can match Cantu’s length of service and interest in municipal affairs, disagreed with Cantu’s gloomy outlook.

Halford noted the city is better positioned with its general reserves than it was in the past.

He also inferred more transparent budgeting and financial oversight that is now in place coupled with the due diligence of department heads and mid-management, means the city should be able to tighten its belt to weather the next economic downturn in much better shape than they did in 20098.

 

What the survey

od voters showed

The 2022 Community Priorities Survey  conducted by The Lew Edwards Group that was commissioned by the city and presented to the council Tuesday indicated:

*52.5 percent of those surveyed supported a sales tax increase with 21.1 percent in the “definitely yes” category and 31.4 percent in the “probably yes” category. Once what the city planned to do with the money was fine tuned, support dropped to 47.5 percent.

*37.6 percent did not support a sales tax increase with 23.7 percent “definitely no” and 13.9 percent “probably no.”

*9.8 percent did not have a position.

*57.9 percent believed the economy would get worse in the next six months.

*Satisfaction with city services has decreased.

*The majority of voters aren’t satisfied with the management of public funds.

Based on various alternatives the consulting firm explored with respondents, they concluded “it is LEG’s professional  judgment that the measure is not viable in this economy.”

A one sent sales tax would raise $19 million.

The last city attempt at a one cent sales tax hike was Measure Z in November 2020

That measure would have raised $12 million.

It was rejected by a 52.05 percent of the voters.

Based solely on the dollar projection the city made in the 2020 ballot measure and the data provided to those interviewed in the survey, the city’s existing one cent sales tax has increased municipal revenues by $7 million in just over two years.

Part of that jump is recovering from pandemic related economic hits.

The pandemic emergency was officially declared in March 2020.

 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com