Where they differ is in the experience they claim and how they propose to apply it to balance the city’s budget and bring more businesses and jobs to Tracy.
The candidates — vying for two four-year terms in the Nov. 6 election — outlined their priorities during the course of a 2½-hour forum at the Kimball High School theater, answering questions from the Press editorial board and members of the audience.
Getting to know them
Speaking first after drawing straws, Charles Manne highlighted his 3½ years on the Tracy Planning Commission, which has given him a role in the city’s land-use decisions. He also touted his role as a father of two young sons with another on the way and as a businessman with a financial services company.
Raymond Morelos noted that he is a fourth-generation Tracyite with six years of experience on the City Council in the late 1980s. As a local restaurant owner in town for the past 40 years, he emphasized that a strong local economy is the key to the city’s financial stability, adding that he provided a voice for business people during the recent redevelopment of the Sixth Street plaza.
Nancy Young spoke about her experience as a project manager for a financial services company and her role with community groups during her six years in Tracy. She said her plan is to bring creative leadership to the community and help existing businesses thrive and grow.
Roger Birdsall said he has the economic development experience that comes from 38 years as an auto dealership owner and a leader of business groups such as the Tracy Chamber of Commerce and the Tracy-San Joaquin Certified Development Corp., which have helped attract businesses and jobs to town.
Michael Maciel talked about his personal history in town as a longtime Tracy-area resident with a continuing commitment to the community. He spent 25 years with the Tracy Police Department, retiring in 2006 with the rank of captain, and has been on the City Council since 2008.
City budget is key
The candidates agreed that economic growth that translates to successful businesses and more jobs will create a sturdier tax revenue base for the city, helping put the city’s general fund budget back in the black after six years of deficits.
Candidates emphasized growing sales tax revenue by boosting the local economy as a better way to fix the deficit, as opposed to making cuts to services.
“It’s unfortunate, but like everyone else, we have to make cuts, but we’ll also have to grow on the revenue side,” Manne said, adding that businesses provide the tax base that supports the city.
He said council members must help the city make a good impression to businesses that could locate in Tracy.
“As a City Council member, I will personally reach out to these businesses and ask the question, ‘What can we do to work together to make Tracy your home?’” Manne said.
Morelos emphasized the role of locally owned businesses already in town. He also cautioned that cuts that go too deep would diminish city government’s ability to promote economic growth.
“There are things we can do to increase our budget and not lay people off,” Morelos said. “If we start laying people off, our services suffer. And if our services suffer, that also affects our economic development.”
Morelos also said city actions make a big difference in the business climate.
He said a condemned and formerly fenced-off downtown building on the corner of Central Avenue and 10th Street that was handled too slowly by code enforcement scared some businesses away from the area, while on the other hand the city’s monetary incentive helped bring a Macy’s department store to the West Valley Mall.
Young said that entrepreneurs need to see Tracy as business-friendly.
“We, as Tracy City Council, can make it welcoming for jobs to come here,” Young said. “We need to get rid of the unnecessary red tape and obstacles.”
She added that supporting the economic base already in town is just as, if not more, important.
“I really want to shine the light on existing businesses, to help them to thrive and not just barely survive here,” she said.
Birdsall advocated attracting a four-year university to town — something he said would be a powerful job magnet — and said council members should be ambassadors to the business world.
“You just have to keep selling the town and selling what you can do,” he said.
He said small businesses should feel as welcome as the manufacturers, warehouses and retailers considering Tracy.
“You have to be excited and say, ‘Great! Thank you for looking at Tracy. What can I do to help you make that decision?’” Birdsall said.
Maciel said that during his tenure on the council, Tracy has been aggressive in cutting expenses and streamlining the process at City Hall to open businesses. He said the city is already on the path to success.
“Tracy has enjoyed some of the best job growth in the region for the last few years,” Maciel said. “We are a success story. In the business community, Tracy is making some noise, and that’s where we will have to focus.”
Maciel said the City Council can provide leadership by creating a culture where the priority is the support of new and existing business.
“You need to be prepared to say, ‘Yes, we can believe we have a great deal to offer you as a company. You, in return, will bring us jobs and bring us investment,’” he said.
Measure E on horizon
As part of the discussion about the city’s economic future, candidates considered Measure E, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2010.
The measure was promoted as a way to avoid cuts to police and fire services but is not earmarked for those specific uses. It is also set to expire in spring 2016, which means the City Council could be faced with the decision to cut expenses or promote an extension of the tax if general fund revenues don’t meet outlays at the time.
It was Maciel who said that with so much already cut from the budget, further cuts would be increasingly painful.
In the event that a general fund deficit remains in 2016 without Measure E, Maciel said, “I cannot in good conscience sit here and tell you that we’re not going to cut public safety, because we may very well have to.
“You avoid that by increasing revenues, by attracting business, by people getting jobs,” he added.
The other four candidates said public safety should be spared from possible budget cuts as the council pursues new revenue options.
“You cannot cut the services that are really needed,” Birdsall said.
Manne said that public safety is one of the ways a city puts families first.
“If my family and business are going to be protected, I need the support of the Tracy fire and police,” he said.
Morelos said the city needs to consider the expense of amenities such as a proposed aquatics center when weighing personnel cuts.
“We have to be smart with what we do and how we do it,” he said.
He said the city has other assets that could be used to greater potential, including Tracy Municipal Airport.
Young said that a safe town is her priority and that community involvement and investments in youth pay off in the long run.
“Safety is a number-one priority here,” she said. “One of the reasons I chose Tracy is because Tracy is a safe town, and I want to protect that.”
They all agreed that Measure E should not be renewed as a revenue source.
Morelos said voters tend to reject taxes with no explicit purpose.
“If you’re going to continue with Measure E, put it back on the ballot and have people vote on it, you really have to be clear and honest with the people: Where is that money going to go?” Morelos said.
Young said she did not support the tax two years ago because she believed the city did not explore all other revenue and cost-cutting options.
“I’m not looking forward to a time or any conditions that will push me to say, ‘Yes, we need to continue to tax our citizens,’” she said.
Birdsall said the city should explore how much money it could save by putting capital projects on hold.
“Just to raise a tax to keep balancing the budget, I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said.
Maciel said renewal of Measure E would translate to a failure by the city to meet the goals the council outlined when it asked voters to approve the tax.
“I’m committed to not fail on that account,” Maciel said.
Manne said the city has to treat revenue as a fixed asset and treat Measure E as the temporary tax it was intended to be.
“As a city councilman, I will make sure over the next four years that we do our job with Measure E, pass a budget and protect public safety,” he said.
Candidates also addressed campaign contributions, particularly those greater than $1,000, and whether they would influence their decisions if elected to the council.
Birdsall acknowledged large donations from farmers and business people.
Young said she has a grassroots campaign with no donors meeting the $1,000 mark, while Maciel said his support comes from a wide spectrum of the community.
Manne claimed 162 contributors so far, with his wife, Dawn, being his largest financial supporter.
Morelos said he is not accepting large contributions.
The candidates also shared their perspectives on issues including a new animal shelter, the aquatics center proposed as part of the Ellis residential development southwest of town, and the future of Tracy Ballpark, which could become a residential development if the city consolidates athletic fields at the Holly Sugar Sports Complex.
All supported building a new animal shelter, which was named a top priority in the city’s most recent round of capital improvement discussions.
Most also said that they would have to wait for a final developer agreement to emerge regarding the Ellis development, including the cost and yearly operating expenses of the aquatics park, before making a determination about its merits.
Maciel was the only candidate who was not adamantly opposed to the idea of developing the Tracy Ballpark but said it’s a proposal that needs closer study before the city moves forward on any changes to youth sports fields at the park.
Candidates agreed that growth in housing should be market-driven and respond to the needs of companies and workers who live in town.
Also up for discussion was the future of Tracy Municipal Airport, which all candidates said can be an economic development asset to the city. The candidates agreed that an unresolved issue is the length of the runway after the most recent measurement left the airport’s main runway about four feet short of the 4,000-foot standard that insurance companies consider safe for certain planes.
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
• The Tracy City Council forum hosted by the Tracy Press can be seen on the local cable access Channel 26. A schedule is at www.ci.tracy.ca.us/?navid=767.
• The Tracy Tea Party Patriots also filmed the forum and plan to put their video online at www.tracyteapartypatriots.com/Tracy,_CA_Tea_Party.html.