The following is the draft response that the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District discussed during Monday’s board meeting. It is a response to each of the findings and recommendations of the Grand Jury Report which should be dismissed as reckless and puts people’s lives in danger
Please do not take my word for it; ask Station 93 Capt. Gil Guerrero at about how reckless this report is what he recently went through trying to save someone’s life. I promise that you will not have a dry eye when you are done with your chat.
I’ve included “notes” under each finding/recommendation which the board recommended be included in the response. If you have a comment in support of the Parcel Tax, please send it to Kevin Romick or Chief Henderson so they may possibily include it in the response.
Grand Jury Findings:
1. Without new sources of revenue, the District’s current operating structure cannot be sustained. Suggested Response:
Agree: The current level of service would need to be cut in half.
Pat Anderson – need to mention that operating on current operating budget ensures service levels cut in half or worse.
2. From a quality of service point of view, the current operating structure is adequate.
Suggested Response: Disagree: Many parts of District believe that stations closures and cuts already made in 2010 caused services to become inadequate. Moreover, due to geography, some parts of the District believed that service was inadequate even before the 2010 cuts.
Romick – include multiple reports (3) that had already been done which state opposite of Grand Jury.
Frazier – include that this is service includes pre-closing two stations.
Anderson – include what response times would be. “in terms of quality of service, this really ticks me off because it’s a deficient budget” that they are operating on.
Stonebarger – “Can we respond with absolutely ridiculous? The whole board is disgusted”. Urges board to push back hard as possible as this report puts the district in jeopardy. Urged board to tailor response to the voters to what is being argued in the papers. Define what is “adequate”.
Frazier – Personnel is stretched thin, he noted he was proud of the services the firefighters are providing considering what they are working with.
3. The Board of Directors has not publicly explained a parcel tax option at a level necessary to sustain the current operating structure.
Suggested Response: Disagree: The Board has been discussing the full range of options over the past two years, including significant consideration of a benefit assessment in the Spring of 2011 that was focused at maintaining current levels of service. The Board will continue to review its options as it moves through the statutory process of considering whether to place a tax measure on the ballot.
Romick – Not the first to discuss parcel tax, the previous board also discussed this tax.
Frazier – Board of Supervisors in 2007 approved by poll
Unknown –Public requested that this board do not put a band aid fix on this problem, wanted the benefit assessment fixed.
Anderson – Current service is not acceptable.
4. The Board has not considered contracting for all fire suppression services from CAL FIRE, a capable, recognized provider of those services.
Suggested Response: Agree: The Board has not requested a quote for service from Cal-Fire. However, we did seek and receive a quote from ConFire in 2011, which was significantly higher than the cost of continuing to provide the services directly. The Board did discuss Cal-Fire and the process to obtain a quote in the September 12, 2011 meeting and the direction by the Board was not to request a quote.
Romick – Approached this topic very early in the process and was bid (need to find date). This board did not do this, but the prior board did.
5. The $197 parcel tax exceeds the amount required to support the Board’s proposed expanded operating structure, resulting in substantial reserves and costs to the taxpayers.
Suggested Response: Disagree: The $197 parcel includes funding both the Capital Improvement and Equipment replacement funds, which are critical parts of any well run fire service to replace aging and unsafe equipment and facilities. The funds were established in the spring of 2010; however, were only able to fund them at 10% of the appropriate levels due to the need to devote funds to the Operating Budget. Both the Capital Improvement and Equipment Replacement funds should be funded at 1 million dollars a year.
6. The Grand Jury estimates the proposed $197 parcel tax will generate about 50% more revenue over a four year period that is needed to sustain the current operating structure.
Suggested Response: Disagree: As noted above, the Grand Jury estimate fails to recognize the Board’s reserve policy for Capital Improvements and Equipment Replacement.
Frazier – include that we are currently using a FEMA trailer
7. Only one approach to solving the problem is being presented in the public information sessions. As a result, the residents have not been presented with other options.
Suggested Response: Disagree: As noted above, the Board has had numerous public meetings to discuss the financial options available to it over the past two years. The current outreach and town hall meetings are designed to provide public education and obtain comment and input on the approach the Board selected for consideration on the basis of the prior meetings.. Until the Board completes the statutory public hearing required to place a tax measure on the ballot, the approach to solving the problem remains subject to change. The Public Hearing must be held before March 9, 2012 to meet the deadline for the June 5, 2012 election; we are currently contemplating a February hearing date.
8. The Board is not offering a viable service option in the event a $197 parcel tax initiative for an expanded operating structure is not passed by voters in June 2012.
Suggested Response: Disagree: The Board has directed staff to work on this. Staff has provided a timeline to make necessary cuts for the next fiscal year and is working on the final operational plan that could go into effect July 1, 2012.
Romick – we have been open with what would happen should it not pass.
Anderson – direct staff to work on a budget, which is way below adequate compared to what Grand Jury believes. Staff had been working on a service budget since Sept.
9. It is not clear that the Board is actively pursuing negotiations with collective bargaining units to reduce costs.
Suggested Response: Disagree: The District is currently in negotiations with our labor groups but the contents of the discussions are confidential.
Stonebarger – Labor negotiations have been on the agenda since October. “ I am at a loss for words for this as to the statement, it’s ludicrous.”
Anderson – see and attach agenda to show it’s there.
Grand Jury Recommendations:
1. The Board should consider other available operating structure alternatives before deciding on a ballot measure.
The recommendation is being implemented: The District has been working on this since June 2010 by considering options such as further cuts, new or increased fees, a benefit assessment and a parcel tax.
2. The board should consider whether the current operating structure provides adequate service levels and should be included as an alternative.
The recommendation is being implemented: The Board and its Ad-Hoc Committee on financing have looked at several staffing models. Public comments during a Board meeting devoted to service models were that the District needed to improve service, not stay status quo. Nonetheless, the staff continues to work on options for service models in the event the Board decides not to pursue a parcel tax or if it does and the tax does not obtain voter approval.
Recommendation has been and is being implemented.
3. The Board should consider outsourcing all fire suppression services to Cal-Fire for the current operating structure as a potential costs saving measure.
Discussion Point: The Board did discuss requesting a quote from Cal-Fire in September 2011, however did not move forward with a request. Staff seeks direction on whether the Board would like staff to pursue a Cal-Fire quote. The Board did request a quote from Contra Costa County Fire Protection District as a service model. CCCFPD was more expensive that our current service model.
Outsourcing to CalFire was looked at in Sept. 2011 but the board did not request a quote. ConFire last year become more expensive.
Romick – Question Grand Jury assumption that CalFire would be cheaper. Ask if CalFire has been interviewed.
Anderson – Service cost have not gone down since we last discussed this cost in the past (I think she mentioned 2007).
4. All possible cost containment opportunities; including resolution of union agreement, should be considered in Board’s evaluation of alternatives for providing services.
The recommendation is being implemented: The Board has been working on cost containment since the governance change in February 2010, which included the closing of two fire stations, not filling open positions, and deferring the replacement of equipment/station repairs in fiscal year 2010-2011. As noted above, the staff continues to work on options for future service models based on the available revenue.
5. For all operating structures considered, the Board should conduct the analyses required to whether the additional revenue being requested from the taxpayers is the minimum reasonably required to fund and sustain each alternative.
This recommendation is being implemented: The Board previously looked at several staffing models and services levels and received extensive public comment on the need to build a sustainable District. The Board will continue to consider whether service model options through and during the public hearing prior to considering placing the parcel tax on the ballot.
Refer to implemented and is being implemented. They also mentioned that the previous Grand Jury praised Brentwoods methodology which this board used.
6. The Board should inform and educate the residents of the District regarding alternative operating structures and associated costs, and solicit their input.
The recommendation is being implemented: The District hired an outreach/education Consultant in September 2011 and started the education process with an aggressive schedule of Town Hall Meetings as well as an informational mailer to the public. Public input is being received at each of these meetings and is expected to continue through the public hearing next month.
Morgan – public input was collected and is being used.
7. After receiving public input, the Board should decide on the most appropriate operating structure and propose an appropriate parcel tax initiative.
The recommendation is being implemented and will culminate in the Public Hearing for the proposed Parcel Tax.
Include comment has been and is being implemented.
8. The Board should consider developing a viable service alternative to be implemented in the event of the parcel tax initiative failing.
The recommendation is been implemented: The staff has been working on a balanced budget staffing model in the event the parcel tax is not approved by the Board or the voters, which will be presented to the Board for its consideration.
The final draft will be adopted during the February meeting. Citizens are encouraged to send in comments regarding the Grand Jury findings and may be included in the response.