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LM Fire board fails to answer the 9-1-1 call

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POSTED August 8, 2010 1:56 a.m.
Taxpayers too often are considered clueless cattle even by those who claim they are looking out for their best interests.

Such is the case with the Lathrop Manteca Fire District board.

The district is bleeding $2 million in losses over the past two years from declining property taxes. They are facing the prospect of closing up to half of their four fire stations plus laying off as many as 10 firefighters.

The board had previously agreed to put a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot asking voters to support a parcel tax to avoid station closures. It would of required a two thirds of the votes cast to pass. It also would cost the cash strapped district $25,000 to conduct the election.

On Wednesday, two days before the deadline to have an item placed on the November ballot, the board reserved itself on a split 3-2 vote.

Essentially the majority didn’t want to risk spending another $25,000 plus whatever it would take to educate the public of the situation even though firefighters said they’d pound the pavement. They also didn’t feel it was right to ask people to raise their taxes.

In other words, they thought people needed protection from themsleves in case they accidently voted for a tax they might not be able to afford.

It is the most twisted and perverted logic one could use.

Yes, people are angry with government. But as elections up and down California have shown when a local need can be clearly demonstrated voters have stepped up at the ballot box and essentially said “tax us.”

The reason is simple. What is happening in your own backyard has a higher value to you than how Sacramento or Washington piddles away money.

Rest assured that there will be residents two miles south of the Nile Garden station should it close or in the deepest reaches of the southwestern pocket of the Mossdale Landing neighborhoods should the district’s station west of Interstate 5 is shuttered who probably wish they had a chance to tax themsleves.

Responding to a fire or heart attack or other major medical emergency is going to become extremely dicey real quick.

Compounding the problems is a state law that prohibits proposed taxes from being placed on special election ballots when voter turnout is traditionally significantly lower. That means the earliest voters could weigh in on the issue is 2012. Even if it passed then, there would be a delay of up to a year before the money was collected.

Residents, farmers, and businesses served by the Lathrop Manteca Fire District are in for some real rough and scary times.

The fire board should have trusted the people they represent. Voting on board members and deciding the fate of taxes are essentially the only real input they have on district issues. The board’s majority decided that they knew better than the people.

Going to the City of Lathrop with hand extended won’t probably do much good. Lathrop has been artfully walking a precarious financial tightrope. For the city to commit money to fire services when police protection has had to be cut along with other city services would certainly be a move that could damage Lathrop significantly.

Taxpayers aren’t stupid.

They can make decisions.

It should be up to them to determine whether they can fork out another $50 or so a year in parcel taxes. They might also decide to cutback somewhere else because they place a high value on having fire and emergency medical services readily available for their family friends, and neighbors. They also may decide they can’t afford an increase.

One thing is for sure, they now won’t have the choice thanks to the board. Instead they will have to live with station closures and longer response times for at least two if not three years at the minimum.

As far as dropping property taxes, not everyone is trying to sell their home or farm. If property taxes dropped 20 percent on average from overall 2008 property tax bills of $2,000 that means property owners are saving $400 in taxes each year. Even though time are tough, they may have been more than willing to give $50 of that $400 savings to the fire district in the form of a parcel tax that had a sunset provision of five years.

But we will never know now that those who believe they know what is best for the Lathrop Manteca Fire District - even taxation power reserved to voters - have decreed taxpayers won’t have any say. Instead they will decree that stations will be closed, firefighters cut, and response times lengthened to the point it can - and probably will - cost lives and significantly increase figure losses.
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