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Voters deciding in November on plan to raise $2M annually

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POSTED July 3, 2012 1:56 a.m.

LATHROP — Lathrop voters will decide in November whether to impose a one cent sales tax that could generate up to $2 million annually for their city’s stressed municipal general fund.

If approved by voters, Lathrop’s sales tax would jump to 8.75 percent. That’s a half cent higher than Manteca’s and nearly a cent higher than California’s average.

After a brief discussion during their regular meeting Monday night, the Lathrop City Council – in a split 3-2 vote – decided to move forward with placing the sales tax measure on the November ballot.

Councilman Omar Ornelas and Councilwoman Martha Salcedo cast the dissenting votes.

With shrinking revenues, state raids on local governments and no immediate end to the current recession in sight, the discussion over how best to improve the city’s financial standing initially included a sales tax increase. The council approved funding for a consultant late last year and work began surveying residents in January.

And according to the consultant, even with at least one state tax increases on the November ballot – which will likely be highly-politicized in the coming months – those polled overwhelmingly said they’d support Lathrop’s measure to secure the long-term financial stability of the city while at the same time ensuring public safety remains funded.

Based on the information provided in the presentation, Lathrop has 18 percent fewer police officers than the FBI recommends for a city its size. The Lathrop-Manteca Fire District was forced to close one of its four fire stations due to required budget cuts.

The council also had to dip into general fund reserves for the last two years to balance the budget – noting both times that they want to find additional revenue streams to make sure that it doesn’t become an annual occurrence.

According to acting finance director Cari James, if the tax increase were to go into effect an oversight committee would be tasked with determining how best to allocate the funds. It would be audited every year just like the rest of Lathrop’s finances.

The issue going before Lathrop voters – which Ornelas said he couldn’t get behind – will be a one percent increase with no sunset clause.

Getting behind public safety and supporting both police and fire is something that Ornelas said he absolutely has no problem with, but felt more comfortable doing so with a half-cent sales tax.

Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos couldn’t have been more in support of the one-cent measure.

“I don’t want any sunrise – get them the money, let’s get them out there and get it done,” Santos said.

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