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Lathrop’s big tax collector may sue

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POSTED August 24, 2014 10:32 p.m.

LATHROP – It didn’t matter to Darwinder Dhoot that 77 percent of those that voted in November of 2012 wanted it.

It didn’t even seem to matter that the numbers that he threw around at a city council meeting a month ago – about how the City of Lathrop had tens of millions of dollars in the bank when they went out to the public and asked for a one-cent sales tax increase – were wildly inaccurate.

He just wants to see the tax gone, or else, based on what he hinted to Lathrop’s elected officials last week, he’s going to take legal action against the city and let the entire ordeal play itself out in court.

Yes, the argument over Measure C that was non-existent when the council considered putting it on the ballot and went so far as to solicit input from local businesses and residents alike is finally happening – nearly 18 months after the tax started being collected.

The feather in Dhoot’s cap is that he has more than likely generated more sales tax than any other individual business in town during the time that he’s been operating Joe’s Travel Plaza thanks to the massive amounts of diesel fuel that he sells to truckers that hit his business along I-5 on Harlan Road.

And once again, Dhoot’s former Director of Sales is taking aim at the City of Lathrop for practices that he feels are unscrupulous and unfair to the business community as a whole.

“Unfortunately, in the last few weeks we’ve seen some unpleasant facts regarding the internal framework of the events leading up to Measure C. There’s quite a compelling case here that an injustice has occurred,” David Cruz said. “There is enough reasonable circumstances to believe that some type of alternative agenda was carried out by certain individuals within the city council – either within the Mayor’s office or the fire department.

“I represent Mr. Dalwinder Dhoot and several other businesses here in Lathrop and they’ve been unjustly impacted by this measure which was obtained under some very suspicious circumstances. These owners would like to seek other legal channels and have the right to do so. They want their day in court – they believe that if the citizens of Lathrop truly knew the circumstances of Measure C, they wouldn’t have voted for it.”

But Lathrop’s staff is claiming that Dhoot’s representation is singing a different tune today than they did 12 months ago when they met to iron out any and all concerns that may have arisen as a result of Measure C becoming the new standard.

After asking Cruz whether or not he was a lawyer – to which he replied “no” – Lathrop City Attorney Salvador Navarrete informed him that he had met with Dhoot’s previous counsel and specifically asked him whether he had any plans on bringing a claim against the city and was told that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by the city in the case whatsoever.

And things got testy at times.

Dhoot pointed and fired at City Manager Steve Salvatore after he felt that Salvatore disrespected him by laughing at one of the points that he made during his time at the lectern.

“You can laugh at me all you want but in court you won’t be laughing at me. You were a kid when I came here in 1993 and I have since paid millions of dollars in taxes,” Dhoot said before being redirected to his original point.

One of Dhoot’s major problems is that there was a handshake agreement in place between the City of Lathrop and the Lathrop Manteca Fire District that he felt unfairly swayed the public into voting for the measure – especially since the district had, in the previous two years, laid off a handful of firefighters and intermittently closed a fire station because of budget concerns.

The $6 million in general fund reserves, Dhoot said, that the city had should have gone to take care of issues like that.

The City of Lathrop has nothing to do with the district, and had already made a cash loan to help infuse money into the operating budget.

Fire Chief Gene Neely said that the district received $1.2 million in tax revenue – a spike from the $800,000 originally estimated – and that the number actually shows that people are actually spending money quite freely in the community.

Cruz asked, and was granted, a future audience with the council after asking for a brief period to sit down with those he represents and figuring out what the next best move is.

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