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Push to merge Lathrop and French Camp fire districts
LM fire

Is a hostile takeover on the horizon?

Last week the Lathrop Manteca Fire District remained mostly silent as the Lathrop City Council handed the responsibility of Fire Marshal for the Pilot Flying J Truck Stop to the French Camp McKinley Fire District.

But on Thursday night, Fire Chief Gene Neely let his true feelings be known at a fire district meeting during his comments to the fire board expressing his intentions in how he wants to deal with animosity between the neighboring independents and plotting a course that could drastically alter the dynamics of rural fire protection districts in the South County.

He wants to consolidate.

While the plan is currently short on specifics, Neely said that when the board meets next month he wants to introduce a number of possibilities that he believes will ensure that the City of Lathrop is kept whole moving forward into the future.

The issue centers on a decision by the Local Agency Formation Commission to allow French Camp McKinley to retain the coverage of the property on their southern border that was annexed into the City of Lathrop – specifically the city’s largest truck and travel plaza, and tractor trailer fleet dealership. Neely said that he wasn’t happy with the commission’s decision, which created confusion that required an ordinance by the Lathrop City Council to clear up, He said last  week he would be looking at other avenues towards rectifying the situation.

The French Camp District includes several high-priority sites such as the San Joaquin General Hospital, the San Joaquin County Jail, the San Joaquin County Juvenile Justice Center, the Honor Farm, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the California Health Care Facility.

Neely said that he believes that there is enough precedent – including a report by LAFCo that specially calls for more consolidations of independent fire districts to eliminate duplication of services – to make such a move possible, although he reiterated that the specifics would have to be worked out over a period of time.

If successful, current French Camp McKinley Battalion Chief and Lathrop Manteca Fire Board member John Gish would likely have to choose one of the two titles as serving in both roles would constitute a conflict of interest. Discussions about the makeup of the fire board itself after a consolidation – whether to expand the board to seven seats to allow for French Camp interests to remain – is something that Neely said he will discuss at the upcoming meeting.

The District will next look to retain the services of Michael Colantuono – a specialist in LAFCo law that already represents the district’s interests in a number of areas – to help formulate a strategy and represent the district moving forward in this process.

The matter will be discussed more in-depth at the next meeting of the meeting of the Lathrop Manteca Fire District Board of Directors on July 19. The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., will take place in the council chambers at Lathrop City Hall – located at 390 Towne Centre Drive in Lathrop.

A phone call to the French Camp McKinley Fire District seeking comment went unanswered on Friday due to the fact that the office itself is closed. Other attempts to reach out to French Camp Fire Chief Fred Manding through other channels were unsuccessful.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.