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Lathrop council dips into reserve to save four jobs
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LATHROP – People count in Lathrop to the tune of $273,000.

The City Council on Monday decided to spend down the reserves by that amount in order to keep four municipal workers whose jobs were on the chopping block in order to balance the city’s budget prior to the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos and Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo cast the dissenting votes.

With the vote the city will keep Principal Planner Charlie Mullen and Information Technology Analyst Claudia Munson-Shaw as well as a code enforcement officer and a part-time assistant for the city attorney. They are  funding the positions by dipping into the $7.2 million in reserves currently on the books.

Nearly everybody in attendance at the meeting lobbied the council to save the positions, but figuring out which ones to keep became quite contentious as the meeting carried on into the night and the focus began to shift towards the economic development administrator position that was slated to be filled by Steve Carrigan.

Ultimately Carrigan’s position went unfunded, and will likely be filled by a team of administrative staffers including City Manager Cary Keaten, Community Development Director Glen Gebhardt and Finance Director Terry Vigna.

Even an 11th hour meeting – where Carrigan and Keaten met with Councilmen Sonny Dhaliwal and Omar Ornelas behind closed doors to discuss details about a pair of deals that Carrigan claims will bring over $3 million in annual taxes to the city once closed – didn’t affect the outcome and actually got him chastised by the councilmen for not coming to them earlier. 

“We’re living in a suffering economy, and everybody is frustrated right now,” Carrigan said after the council voted – noting that he had no idea this was coming until the middle of last week. “Confidentiality is such a big part of my job, and some of the councilmembers were a little bit slighted by the fact that I didn’t come to them with some of those details. I work for the city manager.

“I think that I’ve done my best over the course of the last 18 months, and I think that as a town Lathrop is well on our way. I’m just disappointed that I’m not going to be able to see it through.”

When the council met last week to discuss the budget, Carrigan’s position was included in Keaten’s budget – which the council unanimously agreed to fund – and expectations of him becoming a part of Lathrop’s staff have been floating around ever since the council decided to fund an economic development position over a community prosecutor two months ago.

The initial idea didn’t sit well with some in the audience.

“For me to hear that we cannot afford an economic development director, a permit clerk and a principal planner shows me that we’re at a standstill right now,” Amita Kotecha said. “I think we should analyze this a little bit more and not put a nail in our own coffin. If we do this now we may never be able to play catch-up.”

By funding only the four positions the council approved and making other small changes, the city saved $292,000 when compared to the option of funding the shortfall completely with reserves.

According to Lathrop’s five-year forecasting model, based on the $615,000 deficit that was planned for, could grow to $897,000 next year. By 2015 it will top $1 million, and reach nearly $1.2 million by 2016. If reserves were used to cover those deficits – waiting through the years where city financiers believe that sales and property tax would start to rebound – Lathrop would have just under $3 million in general fund reserves in 2016.