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Lathrop OKs $395K bail out for LMFD
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LATHROP – The Lathrop City Council Monday night approved 3-0 the $395,000 loan request from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.

The money is to help the fire district overcome its fiscal year 2010-11 budget deficit, with $336,245 intended to cover its general fund overdraft, and the remaining $58,755 to be used for the estimated shortage of current operational expenses.

Only one person spoke against the bail-out loan for the fire district.

“We’re going to bail them out, but who’s going to bail us out when we’re out of money?” Dan Doyle asked the council.

In response, Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal said, “We’re not bailing anybody out. It’s a loan; it’s going to be paid back.”

By approving the loan, the citizens of Lathrop will have (the fire district) service available to them.

“I believe this is the right thing to do,” Dhaliwal said.

“I’m glad we could come to a mutually beneficial agreement,” commented Mayor Kristy Sayles in turn after she acknowledged that all her questions were satisfactorily answered.

She had two concerns about the loan: having the proper oversight accountability guaranteed in place to ensure that the citizens’ money is spent accordingly, and making sure this loan will not be “forgiven” by a future council.

“We are accountable to the public; I just think it’s good business,” she said of her concerns.

In answer to her concern about accountability and oversight, Finance Director Terri Vigna informed the mayor that Item #4 in the city’s covenant with the district spells out that the district has to budget the annual loan.

“I just wanted to know how strong that covenant was,” the mayor replied.

“We appreciate the help, and we try to be as transparent as possible,” Interim Fire Chief Gene Neely told the council in response to the mayor’s comments.

The district has taken that transparency even one step further by posting the district’s entire budget on its web site, Neely said.

Speaking on behalf of the district as chairman of the fire board, Bennie Gatto said, “We are very appreciative of what the city has done for us.”

It not only “shows a spirit of cooperation” between the city and the first district where there was only “cold shoulder here and there in the past,” he said, but with the financial infusion from the city, “we can continue to provide the citizens the protection that they need and get our needs addressed” at the same time.

“Let’s keep up the good work,” added Gatto.

Acting fire chief Gene Neely said the agreement approved by the council Monday will go before the fire board at their regular meeting Thursday evening.

At least one concerned resident attended Monday’s council meeting anxious to see the outcome of the vote on the proposed loan to the district.

“I’m a taxpayer so I approve (the loan). I feel a little bit safer now. Thank you all; public safety is the number one issue,” resident Forrest Burke after the 3-0 council vote.

Commenting back on those words of gratitude, Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal said, “We don’t deserve the appreciation. On September 11, 2001, I watched as the plane hit the World Trade Center and saw that as the people were going out of the building, the firefighters were going in. So it’s the firefighters who deserve our appreciation.”

His comment was greeted with applause from the people in the audience.

As part of the Great Recession’s domino effect which saw a deep plunge in residential foreclosures which contributed to the property tax losses that affected agencies like the fire district which relied on that funding source primarily for its operations, the fire district saw its annual income vanish faster than smoke in the air leaving it gasping for a fiscal infusion. The district has two of its four fire stations within the incorporated city of Lathrop which serves its 17,000 population. The district also has two other stations – on East Lathrop Road and on South Union Road – which provide fire services to the unincorporated areas of Manteca and Lathrop.

The three council members who voted on the fire district’s loan request were Mayor Sayles, Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo and Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal. Council member Christopher Mateo was absent. The fifth seat was left vacant when former councilman Robert K. Oliver retired in March.