LATHROP — A massive decline in property tax revenue caused by the recession has forced the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District to look at eliminating positions, reducing services and possibly shuttering a fire station.
And now they’re turning to the voters to ask for a special assessment that they feel will prevent cutbacks – something that Fire Chief Gene Neely says is “critical” to maintain response times and the quality of service that residents within the 100 square-mile district have come to expect.
“When you look at our financial situation right now, this isn’t something that’s been caused by mismanagement, but just bad timing,” Neely said. “The property taxes that we were receiving when development was strong obviously aren’t there today. And that trend seems to be continuing.
“It’s crucial to maintain the service level we have now and keep it where it is, but we need a more stable form of income. Property taxes are so volatile right now.”
It was a combination of re-assessments – both to residential and commercial properties – that drove the property tax revenue even further south for the district.
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 maintaining 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.
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, and 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.
“We received notice that we’re going to lose $125,000 in property tax, and without additional, more stabilized revenue, we’re going to cut back even further,” Neely said. “The board is going to have to look at their options and see how they’re going to proceed – whether it is cutting positions or station brownouts. We don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s why the board came up with this assessment.”
And while the property tax issue is Neely’s chief concern, portions of the district that have annexed to Manteca have slowly started to chip away at revenue that once flowed into Lathrop-Manteca’s coffers.
While individually the projects might not leave any lasting bruises, watching more and more land go the way of annexation into Manteca makes Neely’s life more difficult, he says, and forces the district to reexamine the way that they cover the rural parts of their district that at one time included the newly annexed areas.
“It’s really death by a thousand lashes,” Neely said. “It’s happening all over the place – French Camp, Montezuma – and we’re seeing big portions of land in our rural areas getting annexed into neighboring cities. We see it happening with Center Point and Del Webb, and that ends up being lost property taxes for us.
“We’re trying to do all that we can to keep our service level and our response time where it needs to be. We’ll have to wait until all of the ballots come back before we know what the next move will be.”
A total of four public workshops will be held for district residents who wish to come ask questions and find out more about the assessment and how it may affect them. The first will be held on Tuesday, June 7 at 7 p.m. at Fire Station 31, located at 800 East J Street. The Second will be held on Tuesday, June 14 at 7 p.m. at Fire Station 32 located at 22701 S. Union Road. The Third will be held on Tuesday, June 21 at Station 33 located at 9121 East Lathrop Road in Manteca at 7 p.m. The final public workshop will be on Tuesday, June 28 at 7 p.m. at Station 34 located at 460 River Islands Drive.
The public hearing where the ballots will be tabulated will take place on Thursday, July 21, at Station 34 at 7 p.m.