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Possible Lathrop pact could save most fire services
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LATHROP – The decision about whether up to 10 Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters will be searching for new jobs might not come until the end of the month.

During a special joint meeting held Monday night at Lathrop City Hall, Mayor Kristy Sayles said that she asked representatives from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District to join her in holding the meeting where the Board of Directors joined the City Council in searching for the best way to ensure that medical services aren’t interrupted to the residents of Lathrop and the surrounding rural areas that comprise the district.

Acting Fire Chief Gene Neely told the nine-member panel – comprised of the five elected directors of the fire district and the four sitting council members – that the current proposal on the table calls for pulling full-time staff from Station 32 on South Union Road and replacing them with qualified reserves who would respond to calls in the area by utilizing a call-back system.

That would only work, he said, if some sort of agreement could be reached between where the City of Lathrop would assist financially somewhat in solving the district’s current budget shortfall and helping to craft a plan that would help prevent such a big shortfall from occurring in the future.

The drop in property taxes – which primarily fund the district’s operating budget – helped create what Neely said would be a shortfall of just under $400,000 if all of the adjustments that the district is trying to make are accommodated.

“While the district has always provided all of the necessary services throughout all of its stations, the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District will have to un-staff one of its stations with professional firefighters,” Neely said. “This concept will not be easily accepted. However, the district will now have to rely on assistance from the same neighboring agencies that they have provided assistance to in the past.”

Sayles asked that Neely provide a line-item breakdown of the $1.2 million grant that the city had previously given the district to fund the salaries of firefighters for a set number of years – a period that has since expired and forced the district, which covers roughly 100 square miles of territory – to start back at square one for funding.
Firefighters haven’t received a cost of living adjustment or a standard raise since 2005, Neely said.

If all of the chips were to fall into place, Neely said that the district could continue to provide services while eliminating only one full-time firefighter position – requiring assistance from the City of Lathrop as well as some concessions within the district itself.

If not, he said, as many as seven firefighters could be laid off with three more captains being demoted in order to come in under budget.

Lathrop-Manteca Fire District President Bennie Gatto said that he appreciated the work that the firefighters – who start out making roughly $14-an-hour when hired – have given the city and its residents, and hopes to be able to hold on to as many as possible.

“I’ve been affiliated with this district for 50 years – 22 of which were spent as a volunteer firefighter before it became a paid department,” Gatto said. “Throughout that time we’ve provided the best service that we could provide with the limited number of firefighters and the limited amount of money we had.

“I praise these guys because they are there day-and-night to provide you with the service that you’re getting.”

Sayles said that the city will utilize a combination of press releases and official noticing prior to the next joint meeting to inform the public.