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Higher parcel taxes or higher fire insurance?
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LATHROP – Raise taxes for fire protection, or increase fire insurance?

Property owners in the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District are in that unenviable position as the agency struggles to stay afloat in the face of diminishing income from property taxes and other sources.

A ballot measure is already on its way to the Nov. 2 ballot aimed at getting the blessing of property owners in the district to raise their parcel taxes and save one or two fire stations from being shuttered.

The alternative to that if the ballot is not blessed by the required two-thirds vote – at least, one of the alternatives – is higher insurance rates.

“Fire insurance would go up for homes and businesses if two (fire) stations are closed,” said Bob Gleason, former Lathrop city councilman and a special education teacher with the Stockton Unified School District.

A standard question asked when applying for property fire insurance coverage is: “How far are you from a fire station?” Gleason pointed out.

The closure of a fire station, “theoretically,” will affect the insurance cost for property owners, said Del Morris of Del Morris Insurance & Financial Services in Ripon.

However, he pointed out that for most areas in the Central Valley, anything less than an 8 fire protection or “town class” rating by the Insurance Service Office “is basically the same.”

Currently, the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District’s rating is 3 or 4.

“If they remove a station and the response time goes to greater than five minutes, they could lose their protection or class rating which could cause homeowners’ insurance to go up,” but that’s just for homes or properties affected, not life, Del Morris explained.

Ripon’s ISO rating is 4, “and that’s good,” he said. Rate 4 “basically is the basic,” he added.

The city of Manteca is town class 3 which is “a little better,” but the rate for both cities is still the same because they are under the number 8 rate.

“Anything that’s 8 or better (meaning, a lower number) is the same. So, for example, French Camp-McKinley one station servicing all of its area is still a 6, which is the exact same rate as Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop.”

There is only one city in the area that has a 1 rating, and that is Stockton, Del Morris said.

“That means they are well staffed, they got good equipment and so they got a 1 (town class) rate,” he said.

Most communities are either a rate 3 or 4, he added.

According to Internet information, ISO “surveys communities on a regular basis to determine the Public Protection Classification for the fire protection services protecting the community…. A classification of 1 to 10 is then assigned based on the results of the survey” with Class 1 as the best rating, and Class 10 basically indicating there is no fire protection present. These ISO ratings are used by the insurance industry to determine insurance premiums for many properties within the community.

Some property owners living in areas covered by the South Union fire station near Nile Garden School, the East Lathrop fire station at Austin Road near New Haven School, have already expressed fear and concern for their life and property if they lose the first-response protection provided by those stations. One of the two fire stations in the incorporated city of Lathrop was closed three months ago when the $1.1 million one-time grant from the city earmarked for staffing dried up. The $4 million fire station at Mossdale Landing, which opened with a lot of fanfare about five years ago, was built by developers’ fees.

Keeping all four fire stations in the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District open will hinge on the success of the ballot measure in November. If the measure fails and the district’s financial hemorrhage continues – it already lost $1 million last year in income from property taxes due to The Great Recession and the mortgage meltdown and is starting a new fiscal year on Sept. 1 with more than $300,000 in the hole – the board may have to take the following grim and unpalatable alternatives:

• 1. Lay off 10 firefighters and close two fire stations.

• 2. Keep all fire stations open 24/7 but rotate them. For example, keep the South Union Road station near Nile Garden School and East Lathrop Road by New Haven School open one day; the following day, keep the doors open at J Street in Lathrop’s historic town and Station #4 at Mossdale Landing. And so on.

• 3. The board could just file for bankruptcy with a bankruptcy trustee taking over the district’s finances. This one, however, has not been mentioned at all by the district’s board of directors.

• 4. And the last resort: an all-volunteer crew of firefighters.