By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Merger talk before Lathrop Manteca fire board July 19
French Camp Fire

The hostile takeover of the French Camp McKinley Fire District pitched by Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief Gene Neely last month turned more than a few heads.

And since then, Neely has stayed the course in working to determine whether the proposal, which is still in its infancy, would be the best fit for a district that is poised for an unprecedent period of growth within its boundaries over the coming decade.

According to Neely, since he announced his intent to the fire board to investigate the matter he has spoken with the Local Agency Formation Commission, which has the power to authorize such a takeover, about the potential plan if the board votes to move in that direction. He has also requested and been given access to French Camp McKinley’s financial documents and budgets to gauge the feasibility of adding additional personnel and apparatus within the LMFD’s current financial framework.

The Lathrop Manteca Fire District Board of Directors, who will ultimately make the decision on whether the takeover attempt will happen, will be apprised of these and other developments on Thursday, July 19, at their monthly business meeting at Lathrop City Hall, located at 390 Towne Centre Drive. That meeting is set to begin at 7 p.m.

While the neighboring districts have long had a working relationship, tensions appeared to rise over the issue regarding the Pilot/Flying J Truck Stop annexation and the fact that Lathrop Manteca, which has been the official fire marshal for all services since even before Lathrop incorporated in 1989, was essentially edged out of their own city limits.

The business, which was as lucrative by the Lathrop City Council for the sales tax revenue generated by fleet accounts, is now technically served by French Camp McKinley while Lathrop Manteca would likely respond to and serve as site command for any call involving fire involving gasoline or chemicals because of their hazardous material certification and designation.

Neely didn’t raise any issues with the City of Lathrop’s decision to recognize French Camp McKinley as the fire marshal for that sliver of property on Lathrop’s northern border, even though it had by then been annexed into Lathrop’s city limits. At the time he said that the agreement was hatched to prevent the matter from requiring legal action on behalf of either district, but later disclosed the idea of consolidating the independent districts to create continuity in the area.

Lathrop Manteca has a unique coverage area for a smaller independent fire district that includes a fertilizer plant, dozens of large industrial warehouse buildings, two freeways that interchange and a river that occasionally swells to the point of bursting.

French Camp, on the other hand, has a variety of government campuses including San Joaquin County Jail and Honor Farm, the San Joaquin General Hospital, the San Joaquin County Juvenile Justice Center, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the California Health Care Facility.

Phone calls seeking comment from French Camp McKinley Fire District Chief Fred Manding when Neely’s announcement first surfaced went unanswered, and personnel for the district have noted that they have been barred from talking about the potential consolidation with the media.

Thursday’s discussion will not formally be a part of the fire board’s agenda, but Neely – who said that he is looking into retaining the services of attorney Michael Colantuano, who specializes in LAFCo cases – said that it would likely be placed on the agenda for August.

The consolidation would still require the approval of LAFCo’s board of directors, a rotating commission of representatives from the cities in the county, to become official. The agency in the past has noted its favorable position for consolidating smaller districts to create a more streamlined approach to providing government services to residents.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.