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Sales tax for public safety?
Lathrop ponders November 2012 ballot measure
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LATHROP –  A half sales tax could generate $1 million a year to help hire additional firefighters and police for the City of Lathrop.

The City Council on Monday authorized spending $40,000 to secure a consultant to begin the first phase of determining a sales tax increase for local public safety. A joint powers agreement with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District was also approved.

The preliminary timeline that city staff included in their report lays out a possible ballot measure to be put before voters in November of 2012.

But a lot of things would need to happen between now and then for that to take place.

The first step was taken Monday night when the council approved the hiring of a consultant that will work to determine and analyze the priorities of residents regarding their police and fire services. They will then report back to the council to see if they want to proceed.

A second phase with a preliminary price tag of $55,000 would be next. The consultant would conduct even more work in the field – polling, ballot language and extensive community contact. That information would be used to determine the feasibility of the tax passing and whether a recommendation would be made to the council to adopt an ordinance that would officially put the tax increase in motion.

The third and final phase, which would run right up to the November election, would involve information being placed on the city website and mailings that answer questions about the proposed sales tax increase, lobbying by fire, police and city workers on their own time, and the actual placing of the measure on the ballot.

If the city were to reach that point – the council made it clear that they had the opportunity to bow out at any point – it would cost taxpayers $205,000.

While the city receives its police services through a contract with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, it’s the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District that is charged with protecting not only the houses within the city limits but those in the rural area around town and a portion of the rural area encompassing Manteca.

Because their income is dependent on property tax, the housing market crash combined with recent property value reassessments have left the district’s Board of Directors facing dire financial straits. An attempt to levy a parcel tax failed spectacularly and prevented the rehiring of four firefighters that had to be laid off nearly a month before because of the funding situation.

But big plans are on the horizon if the tax increase – which could end up being a half-cent on every dollar spent – were to pass. The additional sales tax would start being collected on April 1 of 2013.

Lathrop Police Services believe that they would be able to hire an Administrative Sergeant as well as a pair of Community Impact Deputies, while the district plans on hiring five firefighters within five years that are trained in Advance Life Support – meaning that they have training as paramedics.

City officials believe that the tax, if it were to come to fruition, would generate an additional $1 million annually.

Manteca voters passed a half-cent public sales tax in 2008. Without the $4.1 million generated annually Manteca would have 11 less police officers and 12 less firefighters. The money will also help keep four other police officers after a federal grant runs out.