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Homeowner: Vote in favor of parcel tax is lesser of two evils
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Lathrop resident and property owner Tony Martin is voting yes on the proposed special assessment for Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.

As far as the Air Force veteran and University of the Pacific employee is concerned, approving a ballot measure that will have him paying a parcel tax that could amount to about $40 a year so that the district can continue to maintain the current level of fire protection in its 100-square-mile jurisdiction would be the lesser of two evils.

In contrast, Martin said that if the parcel tax does not pass resulting in the downgrading of the district’s ISO ranking, he could end up paying a “conservatively estimated $100 to $150 more in home insurance premium annually” based on figures provided by his insurance agent.

According to Martin, fire officials he talked to indicated the budget shortfall and resulting loss of fire personnel could downgrade the district’s ISO rating, “which means that the response time to cover any fire emergency would most likely take a longer time.”

“There’s a good possibility it will (happen) when they redo the rating in the upcoming year,” Fire Chief Gene Neely said about the district’s rating going down. “There may be areas that won’t be able to get issuance at all. And the others will be extremely expensive.”

ISO stands for Insurance Service Organization which is “a group of trained, professional evaluators that assess almost every fire department in the U.S.,” according to the group’s web site. ISO ranking is 1 through 10, with 1 signifying the best rank and 10 as the designation for no fire protection at all.

Neely said the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District’s current ISO rating is 4 in the City of Lathrop, 4 in areas with fire hydrants, and 9 in the outlying areas. The district’s 100-square-mile jurisdiction covers the entire incorporated areas of Lathrop as well as unincorporated county areas in Lathrop and Manteca. Fire service is provided by the district’s four fire stations at the following locations – two within the city of Lathrop and the other two in outlying areas: J Street in Lathrop’s Old Town District, River Islands Parkway which is the newest among the four and built just four years ago west of Interstate 5, East Lathrop Road near New Haven School, and South Union Road near Nile Garden Elementary.

If the parcel tax is approved by the district’s property owners, the four fire personnel who were laid off July 1 could be called back to their posts at the end of the month. What effect that would have on the district’s ISO rating remains to be seen. The district is still expecting to lose an additional $125,000 in property tax this year. Property tax is the district’s biggest revenue source, with the rest coming from building permit and inspection fees.

Second election process hopes to rescue district’s dwindling revenue

A total of 9,600 ballots were sent out to property owners in the district for the proposed parcel tax. Voters can mail their ballots, or they will be accepted until Thursday, July 21, at the fire board of directors meeting. However, they have to be submitted “before the close of the public hearing” to be counted, Neely said. The meeting will be held at the new Fire Station No. 34 at 460 River Islands Parkway west of I-5 starting at 7 p.m.

This is not the first time the district is resorting to a ballot process to generate needed revenue to balance its budget. Early last year, the district hired a consultant to determine if a ballot measure seeking additional tax from the voters would have a good chance at being passed. The process included interviews conducted at random with prospective voters. The result was not conclusive and the board voted against introducing the measure on the ballot.

That attempt was different from the one that is currently being conducted. The first one was designed to go through a special election process which would have translated to additional expense by the district.

The current ballot process is “to the landowners to be approved by the landowners,” Neely said.

Passage will be by a simple majority.

Where fire district has been losing revenues

Manteca’s annexations of unincorporated areas south and southeast of the Highway 120 Bypass and northeast of East Lathrop Road and Airport Way for major commercial developments such as The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, Big League Dreams, Costco, the age-restricted Del Webb Woodbridge, as well as residential projects eroded a significant amount of property taxes from the district’s annual revenues.

The district, like many other agencies nationwide, was also greatly impacted by the mortgage meltdown which greatly reduced the district’s revenues as a result of the plunging property values.

The district gained some areas west of Interstate 5 when Lathrop annexed land for the development of the Mossdale Village, River Islands, and the Central Lathrop Specific Plan Area that was originally approved for the now-defunct Richland Planned Communities. Some of the areas were previously under the Tracy fire district. But with the sluggish economy, and with building activity practically going at a standstill in west Lathrop, that revenue source also dried up.