By JASON CAMPBELL
Staff reporter of the
Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin
LATHROP – Did property owners come to the rescue of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District?
As of 12:05 a.m. today, the 2,000 ballots that had been mailed-in had not yet been fully counted and certified. That left the fate of four firefighters that were laid off at the beginning of the month hanging due to budget constraints.
There were 10,000 ballots mailed out nearly six weeks ago.
People packed the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Station on River Islands Parkway at the start of the fire district board meeting Thursday night to both voice their opinions and learn the outcome of the much-discussed property-tax hike proposal.
The cost of the ballot election was in the neighborhood of $60,000. That’s about the annual salary of a typical California firefighter.
If the assessment does pass, it will allow for the four laid-off firefighters to be immediately rehired. It will also give the board the financial leeway to boost staffing to previous levels by adding three additional firefighters in the next budget year.
But if it doesn’t pass, Fire Chief Gene Neely will have to start working with the board to figure out what to do next.
“We’d have to crunch the numbers and start thinking about which station we’d have to brown out,” said Neely – noting that he has had discussions with neighboring agencies about mutual aid in case rural stations would have to be shuttered. “Conversations with those agencies would have to be more formal and we’d have to figure out the best way to approach this situation.”
Based on call volume and location, Neely said that more than likely the River Islands Station and the J Street Station would remain open to serve the more populated areas that generate the majority of the calls for service.
That would leave the Lathrop Road Station in rural northeast Manteca and the Union Road Station in rural south Manteca as the two that would likely be eligible for brownout status.
“We’d want to keep the stations open that serve the areas that generate the most calls, but that doesn’t’ mean that we won’t serve the rural areas as well. It’s just going to take us a little bit longer to get there,” he said. “But with our staffing levels the way they are, we wouldn’t have anybody to back up the station that’s responding to the call.
“Right now we’re stretched very thin.”
Chris Neudeck of Kjeldson, Sinnock and Neudeck – a Stockton-based civil engineering firm – handled the collection, sorting and calculation of all of the ballots.