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Fire services cost $103 per Mantecan
Report sounds alarm over Lathrop-Manteca finances
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It costs Lathrop-Manteca Fire District $169 per resident to provide basic fire services.

Contrast that with Ripon Consolidated Fire District at $80 and the City of Manteca at $103.

The variances underscore different approaches and requirements. Manteca is an urbanized department while both Ripon and Lathrop-Manteca serve a combination of urban and rural residents.

The data is part of a countywide municipal services report focusing primarily on rural fire districts and how well they are providing protection to their communities and the challenges they face financially as well as from growth.

Manteca operates three man crews per engine each shift and relies on $3.2 million derived from the collection of the half cent Measure M sales tax to pay for the salaries and benefits of their 12 firefighters. Back the sales tax out and the per capita cost drops to $57. It would also mean Manteca instead of mothballing one of four engine companies starting July 1 - in all likelihood the 100-foot aerial platform housed at the Union Road station with another engine company - it would have to close a station plus sideline the aerial platform truck. Manteca plans to lay off six firefighters July 1 as part of a strategy to bridge a projected $4.2 million gap between revenues and expenditures.

Lathrop-Manteca Fire

Lathrop-Manteca essentially has two-man engine companies with four stations. The fire district seriously considered shutting one of the two Manteca rural area stations - most likely the one on South Union Road - earlier this budget year until they received a $395,000 loan from the City of Lathrop. The district provides urbanized fire service.

The district is in no position to repay the loan to Lathrop next fiscal year and the City of Lathrop may not be able to loan them money again.  It is the only fire district in the county that spent more money on operating expenses than it received

Lathrop-Manteca’s capital expenditures and reserves $14,832 is equal to just 0.3 percent of the operating expenses of $5,183,156. It is the lowest by far in the county. The next closest is Tracy Rural at 7 percent. Tracy Rural also - because of their consolidation with the City of Tracy - owes that city $5.67 million.

All other districts in the county that serve rural areas have between 36 percent and 365 percent of their money set aside for capital expenditures and reserves compared to operating costs.

Special taxes account for 35 percent of the Lathrop-Manteca budget revenues.

The district has 37 sworn full-time personnel. The base salary for a firefighter with five years experience is $51,452 per year plus medical, dental, and retirement benefits. That compares to the county average of $51,068.

A mid-year report shows more than half of the entire district’s overtime budget of $181,000 was already spent leaving just $54,000 for the final six months.

The LAFCO report states that “even though the district is currently experiencing a dire financial emergency now, the anticipated future growth within the City of Lathrop could make it fiscally sound since growth would generate revenues for the district.”

That said, the LAFCO report recommends the district consider coordinating service with the City of Manteca as the 84.7-square-miel district completely surrounds Manteca.

The two jurisdictions currently have an agreement in place where the closest engine to an incident rolls to it regardless of where the engine company is housed.

Some rural residents as well as at least one fire board member believe the district needs to seriously consider some form of consolidation most likely with the City of Manteca.

Several of Manteca’s elected leaders have said they are open to such discussions but that it would have to be done cautiously.

Among the reasons the LAFCO report cited to support coordinating City of Manteca and Lathrop Manteca Fire Department operations included:

•The Lathrop-Manteca Fire District completely surrounds the City of Manteca.

•About 15 percent or 8,000 acres of the district is within Manteca’s sphere of influence or areas that LAFCO has determined are logical for eventual annexation to the city.

•Since 1990, the district’s service territory has decreased in size by about 5,800 acres due to annexations to the City of Manteca.

•The district has sustained significant losses in property tax and a reduction in staffing and service levels - seven firefighter positions are vacant - had to be made to balance the budget.

•Lathrop-Manteca Fire District experienced one of the largest decreases in property tax revenues among all of the county’s rural fire districts. In 2009. The district received 14 percent less through property taxes than it did in 2008. In 2010, it received 21 percent less than it did in 2009. It is estimated annexations to Manteca cost the district $313,529 annually in 2009 or 6 percent of the budget.

Ripon Consolidated Fire

Ripon Consolidated is praised in the LACO report for demonstrating accountability to provide a level of service for the community by making an effort to increase the special assessments to pay for costs. When voters rejected the measure, the fire board stepped up and reduced levels of non-emergency service and increased ambulance and other fees

The district is also considering sharing facilities with the Ripon Police Department. They also have mutual and automatic aid agreements with Lathrop-Manteca, Escalon, and the City of Manteca.

Ripon has two fire stations and is the only fire district that operates an ambulance service.

They have expanded services through reserves that have allowed an increase staffing of their rural station from two to four days a week on average.

The LAFCO report indicated there are no alternative ways of teaming with other government agencies to improve service or financial soundness.

Ripon is staged each shift by four paid personnel - a battalion chief, captain, engineer, and firefighter. The district has 45 reserve firefighters. Of the district’s budget 61.35 percent comes from property taxes and 45.05 percent from special taxes.

The district covers 55 square miles.