Could the Lathrop Manteca Fire District soon be joining forces with Tracy to bolster the existing South County Fire Authority?
That’ll be up to the five members of the Board of Directors who are expected to meet with Tracy Fire Chief Randall Bradley next month to discuss the possibility of merging the district into the existing authority – a Joint Powers Agreement between the Tracy Fire Department and the Tracy Rural Fire Department that was formed in 1999 after decades of talks between the two separate entities spawned the compromise.
And while Lathrop Manteca isn’t in any sort of financial trouble that would force them to find an operating partner to cut costs, according to Fire Chief Gene Neely the arrangement would drastically cut down on the amount that the district would be paying into the County Retirement System and such a savings would allow the district to hire paramedics to serve on every responding engine.
“We’re going to have a presentation in November where we’ll be able to see what district would look like if that was something that was agreed on,” said Neely – who has been at the helm since 2011. “It is something that is being discussed and it’s something that’s being looked at.”
According to Neely, preliminary modeling would likely include him serving as a deputy chief in the new Joint Powers Agreement and keeping his official designation as the Fire Chief of the Lathrop Manteca Fire District – paying for some of the overhead costs like human resources and parts of the salaries of some of the administrative positions that would oversee the three entities.
The big draw, he said, is bringing Lathrop Manteca on-line with the retirement system that the two Tracy departments are currently involved with. In the five years that Neely has been at the helm of the district, he said that the retirement share borne by taxpayers has risen from 46 percent to 71 percent – a big reason that his overall compensation package topped $350,000 last year.
When Neely assumed command of the district in 2011, one of the first scenarios he encountered was a disastrous budget that was destroyed by the county’s reassessment of property taxes in the district – at the time the district’s sole source of income.
After an attempt at bringing a property tax increase to voters failed, the district was able to reach a handshake agreement with the City of Lathrop for 40 percent of the proceeds from a one percent sales tax increase that went onto the ballot in November of 2012. Because the district had to cut three positions and in turn brown out a fire station, the slice of money from what would become Measure C would allow them to retain positions that were funded by a grant that was nearing its expiration date.
Neely said that any talks with the South County Fire Authority are extremely preliminary, and noted that the logistics would likely have to be worked out if the board were to decide for formally examine it as an option.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.