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Are annexations weakening rural fire protection?

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Are annexations weakening rural fire protection?

This rural South Manteca home burned during the summer of 2011.

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED March 13, 2013 1:07 a.m.

Martin Harris isn’t necessarily against annexation and growth.

It’s the hidden consequences – like the impacts to fire protection and emergency services to South Manteca resident – that have him worried.

On Tuesday Harris took his concerns to a meeting of the Manteca Planning Commission and spelled out how the pending annexation of the 184-acre Hat estate would further add to the problems that have befallen the Lathrop Manteca Fire District – which as early as last summer had to brownout the station on Union Road that serves rural Manteca residents.

At the crux of Harris’ argument is the lost tax revenue that agencies like the LMFD need to survive and with no formal mitigation measures in place to compensate those that do see their bases shrink, the expectation that service levels will be maintained, he said, is unrealistic.

“These tax revenue losses, past, current and project, lead me to believe that the current fire and emergency medical service response projection provided to the rural residents, south of Manteca, is unsustainable,” he told the commission. “This is supported by the fact that within the last year the district’s Union Road station experienced continuous brownouts and closures.”

The district’s financial troubles came to a head in July of 2011 when it officially had to lay off four firefighters. The district pinned its hopes on a parcel tax ballot measure that if passed would have given the four back their jobs and avoided the browning out of stations. It was widely defeated.

Ultimately the City of Lathrop would step in and provide a $395,000 conditional loan as a temporary stopgap measure that plugged the hole until the district’s administration applied for, and received, a 24-month federal grant that allowed for staffing levels to return closer to normal.

But if more and more of the district is annexed into Manteca – and, to a lesser extent, Lathrop – Harris fears that the problems will continue in perpetuity unless something is put in place that would compensate them for their loss.

And, he says, it’s not exactly like they’d be asking for the moon.

In the packet that he prepared for the commissioners – he will distribute them to the Ripon and Lathrop City Councils in the coming weeks as well – Harris referenced how the Solano County Local Agency Formation Commission established a standard mitigation funding policy that requires a permanent funding source for lost revenues or increased costs to special districts adversely affected by annexation.

The California Attorney General at the time, current Governor Jerry Brown, wrote a letter of opinion on the matter that the agency used in its decision, and Harris – who ultimately wants to bring this matter to the San Joaquin County LAFCO – thinks that having something similar for the LMFD isn’t too much to ask.

“The rural stations and the people they serve are being hurt by this,” he said. “There needs to be some accounting done. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to save this.”

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