LATHROP – Going to the voters for an annual parcel assessment increase when almost everybody is tightening their personal budgets might seem like a desperate move by the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.
But given the financial situation that the district is facing, it’s the only move they feel they can make in order to maintain an adequate level of service for the 100 square miles covered by the four station department.
And while residents that reside within the district boundaries have long supported the agency, Chief Gene Neely says that the outcome of the vote – which will conclude on July 21 – is completely up in the air.
“It’s really hard to be optimistic in today’s times when everybody is facing a tighter budget at home,” Neely said. “Right now we’re hoping for the best but planning for the worst. We’re working on the preliminary budget and trying to figure out how we’re going to close the gap that we have this fiscal year. It’s not going to be easy without this assessment.”
Over the course of the last four years the district has lost $1.5 million in property tax revenue – cutting their annual operating budget from $5.9 million in 2008 to just under $4.3 million today. Currently Neely and the elected fire board officials are preparing to cut another $125,000, the byproduct of recently completed property tax reassessments, from the upcoming budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
If it comes to that it could be devastating to the level of service that the district is able to offer.
Neely says that without a positive vote on the assessment increase, projected to be an extra $49-per-year for a 2300 square-foot home, four firefighters would be laid off. That would bring the total to nine since the economic downtown began.
That would leave only two firefighters per station with nobody left to spell for vacation or sick time, leading to station brownouts – something that could continue indefinitely until a steady income stream could be established.
Ballots have been mailed to each of the district residents – explaining the assessment and asking for their take on the matter.
“We depend on property taxes to operate, and we’ve been taking hit after hit,” Neely said. “This is something that we have to ask for, and hopefully we won’t have to cut those positions because it will leave us with some hard decisions to make.”
The public will get the opportunity to find out additional information in a series of meetings that will take place before the final tabulation. The next meeting will take place 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.