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Lathrop a life saver for fire district?
LMFD asks for $395,000 bail-out loan from city
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LATHROP – Lathrop-Manteca Fire District Chief Fred Manding has announced his retirement to the board of directors.

His notice to the district board came on the heels of a request for a $395,000 loan made by fire district officials to their city counterparts during a two-by-two meeting held Monday last week. Three days later, Manding made his announcement at the regular fire board meeting on Thursday.

The Lathrop City Council will mull over that request at their meeting tonight, according to Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal who, along with Mayor Kristy Sayles, represented the city in the two-by-two meeting. Standing in for the fire district were board chairman Bennie Gatto and director Bill Mahaffey.

“We’re going to be negative (in our budget) until we get that loan from the city,” Gatto said.

That amount would be enough to balance the district’s budget for the current fiscal year, at least.

More significantly, it would mean that no fire stations would be shut down and the Mossdale station would reopen to its 24/7 full-staff operation. It would also stay for now the potential lay-off of about 10 fire personnel.

“We hope we avoid all that (station closures and layoffs) with the $395,000 loan; we’re still crunching numbers,” Gatto said.

Dhaliwal said he supports the approval of the fire district’s request for a budget-saving loan.

“I am very supportive because it’s a life and death situation. The only entity that can help the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District is the city of Lathrop. I think we should have them. We have to make sure Station 31 and Station 32 stay open. We want them open 24/7. The city of Lathrop will do everything it can to help the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District, whether it’s a grant or a loan. We have to make sure that they stay solvent,” added Dhaliwal.

Under the proposed loan, the district would be given a “two-year window” of opportunity to fiscally regroup and start repaying the loan in 2013.

“Hopefully next year, we’re going to be on track to keep our budget balanced with the chief retiring,” Gatto said.

Acting fire chief Gene Neely, who was appointed to the post after Manding announced his retirement, said the prospect of a saving loan from the city is “definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re hoping that the city partnership will work out to our benefit and that the loan will put us on the right track.”

In addition to Manding retiring, his wife, Angie, who is the district’s longtime business manager, also decided to retire.

Between the chief’s salary of $118,000 a year and the business manager’s $65,000 annual pay, “that will save a lot of money there – well, not a lot,” but it will help the district balance its ailing budget, Gatto said.

Neely will stay as “acting chief right now until we get some money,” Gatto added.

However, there are no plans to replace the business manager. Gatto said her responsibilities will be taken over by the two part-time office employees at the moment until the board takes another good look at the budget.

“With the chief retiring and Angie retiring, there’s pretty good savings right there,” Neely said.

However, he and Gatto said that negotiations for salary and retirement concessions, among other issues, with the members of the union personnel will continue.

“We’ll do whatever we can to save this sinking ship,” Gatto said.

Under the five-year model that was developed to steer the financial voyage of the district, Neely said that “it appears by 2013 we’ll be able to give back some of the (union) concessions such as percentage of wages by 2015, plus slight increases (in salaries) and cost of living allowances – as long as everything works with the economy,” said Neely who described the spending model as a “conservative approach.”

The proposed increase in property taxes via the November ballot, which was jettisoned at the last minute by the fire board after initially approving it, could still be a possibility in the future, Neely said.
“It may be necessary for some of the outlying areas. We still have a long path ahead of us and a lot of work to be done,” he said.