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Lathrop-Manteca eliminating four firefighters July 1
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LATHROP — Four Lathrop-Manteca firefighters have been given their walking papers.

And it’ll be up to the voters whether they’ll be brought back at the end of the July.

Last week the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District issued four layoff notices to firefighters that will go into effect on July 1, coinciding with the beginning of the fiscal year, in order to balance a budget that is losing an additional $125,000 in property tax this year.

Recent reassessment of property in the 100-square-mile district has led to even lower property taxes. That has sent revenues for fire services down even more to continue a trend that began when the mortgage meltdown first hit the South County four years ago.

According to Fire Chief Gene Neely, the status of the four firefighters and the future of the district’s quality of service is hinging completely on the assessment increase that has been mailed out to voters for their consideration.

“The contingency plan that we have right now doesn’t look very good if we’re not able to get this assessment passed,” Neely said. “If it doesn’t pass we’re going to have to look at closing a station immediately and that’ll affect our response times to certain areas.

“One of the options that we’ll have to look at will be rotating the stations that will be closed or choosing one based on the percentage of calls in that area. We’re looking at everything right now.”

The question before those residing within the district boundaries are whether they’re willing to pay an annual fee that will help cover the cost of maintain the current services. The assessment on a 2,300-square-foot home would be an extra $49 a year based on a $3-per-parcel fee plus two cents per square foot of the structure.

Neely has been reaching out to neighboring agencies like Tracy, French Camp and Manteca to see whether they can offer assistance in the event that a station that borders one of their coverage areas were to close.

And given the agreement that the district has with the City of Manteca for both automatic first response of the closest engine and mutual aid to designated calls, the status of Lathrop-Manteca’s financial situation could end up impacting Manteca residents.

While one of the district’s rural stations on Union Road south of Nile Garden School is a straight shot from Manteca Fire’s newest station on Union Road just north of the 120 Bypass, their other rural station on Lathrop Road near where it intersects with Austin Road is nowhere near a Manteca Fire Station. Lathrop-Manteca engines would therefore respond to Northeast Manteca calls being the closest engine to the scene.

If that were to the station to close, the homes in that rural area would likely fall out of the favorable response times that fire districts and departments give both fire and medical calls in order to achieve the most  favorable outcome.

“In talking to people that have come up and asked questions during the public meetings, the responses have been positive. They seem to understand that times are bad for everybody,” Neely said. “They understand that the fire service is like any other agency that is hurting financially right now. But the fact that it seems positive doesn’t mean anything. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to pass.”

Multi-family residential buildings would be levied the $3 parcel fee plus three cents a square-foot, mobile homes would be charged the parcel fee plus two cents a square-foot, commercial would be charged the parcel fee plus three cents a square-foot and industrial would be charged the parcel fee plus four cents a square-foot.

Agricultural land would pay $3 for a parcel up to half-an-acre and $1 per acre after that – adding two cents per square-foot for any structure on the property. Vacant property would be assessed the same way.

The district estimates that they’d receive an additional $1.069 million each year if the assessment were to pass. The collection would continue each year until either the Board of Directors or the property owners vote to end it. The assessment was calculated based on risk classifications for fire prevention and service, not on individual parcel or area land value.

A public meeting to further discuss the assessment increase – giving those in the community the chance to ask questions and find out more about the proposal – is scheduled for Tuesday, June, 28 at 7 p.m. at Station 34 located at 460 River Islands Drive.

The Lathrop-Manteca Fire District board meeting where the ballots will be tabulated and the announcement will be made is scheduled for Thursday, July 21 at Station 34 at 7 p.m.