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Gas station owner at odds with city
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LATHROP – Dalwinder Dhoot can’t dispute the fact that Lathrop voters overwhelmingly supported a one-cent sales tax increase in 2012 – to the tune of more than 77 percent. 

But what the local business owner – who bought Joe’s Travel Plaza on Harlan Road in 1993 – does dispute are the claims that were made regarding the pressing need for the increase that officials have used to hire back police officers or retain firefighters since it went into effect in April of 2013. 

And he’s willing to take the matter to court. 

Dhoot, who had his former sales manager rip into the council before taking the lectern himself, accused the city of using scare tactics in order to convince the public that their safety depended on the tax when in reality they actually had tens of millions of dollars in the bank – alleging that the laying off of firefighters (four positions were eliminated and a station browned out) and police officers were part of the tactic. 

“You misguided all of those people when you said you had no money. And that’s the way you do it – you go door-to-door and you scare them and you misguide them and that’s a white lie, you know?” Dhoot said. “We will go to court and make Mr. Sal (Salvador Navarrete, Lathrop City Attorney) very busy for the next few days.”

According to Dhoot’s former sales manager, David Cruz, the city actually had more than $60 million in liquid assets when they went to the voters in 2012 and asked that they pony up an extra penny out of every dollar spent to bring in an additional $2 million in revenue. A handshake agreement between the Lathrop Manteca Fire Department and the city split that amount of money 60/40, and with more than $265 million in assets – according to Cruz – and liquid funds that only increased between 2012 and 2013 the plea to the public was borderline criminal. 

City officials note the $60 million number is misleading as it involves all city assets of which much is restricted by law.

According to the Measure C text, the initiative was intended to offset the State of California’s raiding of local funds – not distributing money owed back to municipalities – and the growing concern of the impact that the economic downturn was going to have to public safety. Lathrop’s fire service protection was especially hard hit after a property reassessment by San Joaquin County slashed the amount of money they could collect annually, and a property tax increase bid for the district that failed only deepened the crater. 

“I’m the former director of sales for a giant training company, and if I had $62.5 million in liquid assets – that would be phenomenal. And I didn’t even realize that the government has shareholders, because you guys had $62 million in the bank and you chose to lay off firefighters, police officers, close down fire departments,” Cruz said. “I don’t understand. Why Measure C. I don’t understand that. When the tough gets going, the first thing that we want to do is implement a sales tax 

“We, as a society, need to evolve. We have other options. We could have gotten a committee together. Many things could have been done. But the first thing we did was go straight to the sales tax and now good people – including my ex-boss, Mr. Dhoot – are suffering for it. It’s an injustice here, and I ask that you folks take a hard look at this because it’s a serious situation.”

Cruz’s numbers, however, might have been just a little bit misleading.

According to Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore, the $60-plus million number that was being thrown around was actually the total cost of all of the city’s operating funds which included water, sewer and capital improvement reserves – money that is not discretional. The city’s general fund reserve, which, in 2012, was at $6.2 million, is the only money that could be freely used across the board and is considered to be the city’s “rainy day” account. That number, Salvatore said, has grown to $9 million in the last two years because of a variety of factors. 

In response to Monday’s comments, Dhaliwal and the council agreed to place Measure C on a future agenda so that the business community and the public can get a better understanding of the city’s finances at the time they opted to pursue it as an option.