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Dresser addresses hot-button issues
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LATHROP – Steve Dresser, a former Lathrop councilman and planning comminsioner is one of two candidates who are challenging incumbent mayor Kristy Sayles’ bid for re-election on Nov. 2.

The soft-spoken husband, father and grandfather who took a part-time job as technology coordinator with the Escalon Unified School District after retiring from the former Pac Bell telephone company, is joined by Lathrop businessman J. “Chaka” Santos in the race to take over the mayor’s seat from Sayles who is hoping to win a third term of office.

The mayoral candidates, as well as the four council hopefuls, were asked to share their thoughts and opinions on a number of hot-button issues currently facing the city. Dresser was among those who have responded to date.

Asked what he thinks are the main issues and concerns facing the city today, Dresser mentioned the same topics that are on residents’ thoughts today because of their direct hit on their pocketbooks: the high cost of water, the future of the city’s police and fire services, and “the genuine concern over the stagnant economy and its impact on future growth (which) has the neighbors grumbling.”

He added, “Throw in a few jabs at our city image (and) it’s no wonder the citizens are restless.”

On the issue of the spiraling cost of water, Dresser said that “unfortunately, (this) is tough to deal with.”

But he praised the efforts of city staff in “doing everything in its power to secure grants and low-interest loans to help pay for the arsenic-removal plant.” Arsenic removal from water sources in the city to safe levels is a mandate from the federal government to all government agencies nationwide. Like many cities and municipalities, Lathrop is struggling to find the financial sources and vehicles to comply with this project.

“Increased incentives to reduce the amount of water usage such as the requirement for a majority of (residents’) front yard to be vegetation might help,” he added on the issue of water conservation.

Fire district
a big issue
Two issues that are on the forefront these days as the city grapples with budget deficits and dwindling revenues are police and fire services. The city contracts both services – with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office for police, and with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District for fire service.

The fire district, which is not a part of the city but is an independent agency, relies on property taxes of residents residing in its 100-square-mile jurisdiction which includes unincorporated areas around Manteca and Lathrop and the incorporated city of Lathrop for its annual operations. Like many agencies that rely on such revenues for its continued services, the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District has been hard-hit by diminished tax revenues due to the mortgage meltdown that resulted in a massive foreclosure of homes with Lathrop in the epicenter of this real estate crisis. Recently, the City Council approved a $300,000 temporary bailout for the fire district’s 2010-11 fiscal year in order to avoid the closure of the district’s fire stations and the layoff of frontline firefighters.

The situation with police services also deals with the bottom line: funding to maintain the status quo of police services. Diminishing revenues going into city coffers prompted the city to negotiate its annual contract with the Sheriff’s Office. In doing so, the city renewed its contract with the Sheriff’s Office for only one year while the contract negotiations are being conducted.

Concerns about fire and police services led to serious discussions among members of the council and residents in general on the issue of Lathrop having its own fire and police departments. Reactions and suggestions have been polarized, with some in favor and others against the idea of the city establishing these two departments with funding as the biggest concern.

Dresser’s answer to the issue on the police service: “We need to get the ‘most bang’ for our buck when it comes to a police service contract with the county. In no way should we pursue contracting with another city or taking on our own police force. We just can’t afford it. Certainly there are issues, but for the most part I feel they can be resolved,” he said.

As for fire service, he said, “We need to be on board with the fire board as they plan their budget over the next few years. The city reserves cannot be a revolving line of credit but we cannot jeopardize our citizens’ safety.”

As to the issue of wastewater capacity, Dresser said, “We need to figure out how to maximize the wastewater capacity that we have available to encourage growth.”

The city also needs to “work on how the development community views us, on how our neighboring cities relate to us, and most importantly how our citizens view the city leadership,” he said, touching on other issues that he considers important to Lathrop’s growth.

Asked what he thinks are the qualities that a mayor of Lathrop should have, Dresser said, “It is important to be believable with integrity. You can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth, and when you change direction people need to understand why. Communication needs to be two-way. You are the face of the city and need to value everyone’s contribution and participation. Most importantly, you need to evaluate your actions’ impact on the community, the region and business.”

And for his definition of transparency in government, an issue that has been questioned frequently in recent years especially in the wake of such incidents as the Matt Browne wrongful-termination complaint which ended with the judge ordering the city to return Browne to his old job with full salary and benefits restitution after nearly two years of prolonged hearings, Dresser said government transparency means “access to information, open communications with the public and conducting business in an ethical manner.”