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Community prosecutor or economic development?
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LATHROP – What’s more important to the City of Lathrop – an economic development director charged with sparking business in the community or a community prosecutor tasked with handling all criminal activity that originates in town?

That’s the question that the Lathrop City Council postponed last week until their next meeting on April 18 – giving council members the chance to research the merits of both positions and determine, in their opinion, which would be best for a community that has relied heavily on economic growth to sustain itself after the housing collapse.

Scheduled as a normally routine consent calendar item, the issue, which as written would have negated the community prosecutor position and allowed staff to proceed with funding the economic development position for the 2011/2012 budget if approved, quickly became an in-depth discussion item.

City Manager Cary Keaton, who informed the council that the city has had a community prosecutor position in the past when it was funded for 18 months by the County of San Joaquin, stressed the fact that Lathrop is a community dependent on growth in the commercial and industrial sector to maintain certain elements of its infrastructure.

“Lathrop is a development city,” Keaton said. “We need development, particularly as it pertains to our water and sewer system. We need growth to maintain certain elements of the city.”

The cost for a community prosecutor would be $190,000-a-year, and an economic development position – which the city currently has contracted out – would cost $161,000 annually. Both figures include benefits in addition to salary.

Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal didn’t waste any time in telling Keaton that he’s on board for whatever the city says they need to progress.

“These are positions and jobs that need to be filled,” Dhaliwal said. “I don’t want to deprive you of what you need to move this city forward. I’ll gladly give you whatever you need, whether it’s today or tomorrow.”

Not everyone on the council, however, was so quick to throw their support behind one of the two positions.

Councilman Omar Ornelas said he couldn’t just pass something without going into detail about the two positions, and stressed that the prosecutor position was there to make the community safer. But he also went on to say that the District Attorney has said that he won’t be prosecuting any misdemeanor crimes.

And Councilwoman Martha Salcedo said she couldn’t approve either using the community’s tax dollars without knowing what kind of a return the residents would be getting – something that Keaton said he couldn’t immediately answer on the spot but would gladly bring back to the council.

Resident John Wall, who himself works as a business consultant, told the council that one of the cardinal rules of business is you need to spend money to make money – urging them to make a decision instead of just batting the idea around for months.

“Why are we even talking about this after waiting for a year-and-a-half for this position to be filled by a full-time staffer?” Wall asked. “Get your heads together, make us believe you’re here for us, and have somebody get out there and knock on doors for business in this community.”

While the full-time position in economic development would be new for the current council, the efforts of the City of Lathrop to recruit businesses and spark economic growth is nothing new. In 2007 the city paid longtime NFL play-by-play figure Pat Summerall to narrate a video entitled “Champions of Industry” which outlined Lathrop’s strengths as a regional industrial center.