With six public Fire District Parcel Tax Meetings left, time is running out to reach residents of East County to sell us on why we should vote for the parcel tax. Although I do publically support this tax, the message needs to be tweaked in order to become effective. Last night’s meeting in Oakley provided me the proof I needed to strongly encourage a tweak in message.
I am a bit torn with this recap of the Fire Boards Parcel Tax presentation to Oakley last night. On one hand, wonderful information was provided to about 40 people while on the other hand I felt like I was in a math class and somewhat bored. The District should focus more on selling the parcel tax concept through emotion, not providing education.
Before I get nasty emails claiming I am trying to encourage the district to hide facts, my response is education does not have to be boring. I am simply encouraging the District to change its message to include a human element before it’s too late and lives are lost. Yes, the District should educate, but it needs to remove the classroom like atmosphere and make this discussion focused around the citizens, not about the District.
Board President Kevin Romick and Chief Henderson gave some wonderful information last night of how the District was created, its financial conditions, its budget, salary comparisons and other tidbits, but the reality is aside from the firefighters, I hate to say it but few really care about all that.
I mean this in the most polite way, but stop making this Parcel Tax about the District and start making people realize it’s about them—give people a reason to care. The truth is, people are stuck on the $197 figure and are ticked off about another tax.
The response is pretty simple if you ask me. If you do not support this parcel tax, people will die! The District needs to provide a response to citizens that show an emotional value of what they would get for $197 rather than what the district receives with our money.
For example, someone asks what am I going to get for this $197 parcel tax?
The response should not be more firefighters available, service call response will not be interrupted and a new station will be opened in five years as the board is currently giving. The problem is, there is no emotion involved. The human element is removed because it’s perceived as another tax to fund government.
The correct answer would show a value and response should be something along the lines how the District will be able to continue service in a worst case scenario at the current rate, however, we want to add paramedics on engines which better serve you. For example, typically we are on scene of a car accident 5-10 minutes before an ambulance arrives. With a paramedic on board, we can provide immediate onsite advanced life support and pain control services. Currently, if you are in a crash, we can only provide basic care. Do you want us on scene doing all we can do save your life or do you want us on scene doing the minimum we are allowed to do until an ambulance arrives which by that time may be too late to save your life—or a family member. It should also be noted that the $197 parcel tax covers medical costs on services that fire performs as a public service—ambulance companies will charge you for this service including transportation.
Another example could be a structure fire where currently two stations have just 2 men on an engine. To begin service, you need three to four men to even get started. Imagine your house is on fire, engine 1 shows up and can’t enter a home until engine 2 shows up due to staffing levels—you are going to get some pretty ticked off residents claiming they simply let the home burn down.
When its asked about response times, depending on location of an incident, its 6-8 minutes. Give scenarios that highlight how this will jump from 12-16 minutes or longer. Discuss and explain situations where it’s too late to save a life or a structure because too much time has passed. I encourage the Board to stop being vague and just say response times will increase—tie a value to it.
The point in the three example above is you are showing the effects on residents—not the district. You are showing residents why this parcel tax is so important and painting a picture in their head that says “what if that was me?”
Most importantly, you are educating not in a classroom atmosphere, the district is now educating in real world scenarios. I do not want to go to a meeting and be reminded of high school math talking numbers; I want to know how it affects me in the real world.
As far as last night’s meeting goes, while there was some good discussion at times based off Kevin Romicks and Chief Henderson’s response to questions, but it appeared to me to be a protest session that went around in circles and little was accomplished to sell the concept of $197 parcel tax.
Again, the emotional portion of the night didn’t come from the board, but came from firefighters, people who received service from firefighters that saved life—it’s time to capitalize on that. That emotion affects people on this investment of $197.
Also a problem, the Board refuses to answer the elephants in the room.
Its vital they better explain the annual increase better instead of saying peoples numbers are wrong. To the tax payer, tell them what the highest possible tax number will be. It’s not difficult. If there was a 5% increase (which I realize the Board may drop it to 3%), what are they paying each year–spell it out to them. In year 5, my number comes out to just under $250. Stop allowing nonsense numbers to spread and damaging your chances for this to pass.
I saw one person post on a website that in year five, the tax was just over $400 which is comical. But guess what, its likely 100+ people read it and now that’s 100 votes against this parcel tax. The Board has got to answer the elephant in the room.
It’s noble of the board to want to educate and reach out to citizens to let them decide based on merit, but the reality is they also need to inform citizens of the reality that people will die if this fails. Show them that if they fail to pay $197, they will be paying a lot more in homeowners insurance due to lack of fire coverage—this is not a scare tactic, this is reality.
Below is some information taken from last night’s Presentation that I found most interesting:
ECCFPD was formed in November of 2002, with the consolidations of three Fire Districts which the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors did not turn over control of the current ECCFPD Board until 2009.
- Bethel Island Fire Protection District
- East Diablo Fire Protection District
- Oakley Fire Protection District
In 2006, the Revenue Enhancements were discussed. Experts recommended the District attempt about a $250 per parcel tax. In 2008, the ECCPFD
- ECCFPD property tax revenues have been declining since 2008; primary due to the lower assessed valuations; this has reduced our operating revenue by 35%
- Declining revenues and restrictions on raising existing tax rates (prop 13) and fee structures leaves the Dire District with few options to enhance funding.
- Closure of two fire stations (Discovery Bay, Byron)
- 2 administrative positions unfilled
- 5 firefighting positions unfilled
- Deferred equipment repairs (replacement of engines, staff vehicles, fire station maintenance and repair
- Fire Protection Activities have been curtailed (fire trail and Weed abatement programs)
- Participation in outside training and conferences
Financial Statements (estimated fiscal year ending July 2012)
- Revenue: $8,210,276
- Expenses: – $11,083,474
- Gain/loss: – $2,873,198
- ECCPFD tax rates are nearly half of that of surrounding communities (5% compared to 13%)
- At the current rate of obligations, all of the Districts reserves will be exhausted shortly after July 2012
Fiscal Year 2013
If no additional revenues are found, the District will be forced to do the following:
- Close three additional fire stations
- Reduce district staffing levels in half, or more (48 to 24)
- Average response times will increase
- Service delivery drops – the number of calls (and types of calls) they can respond to will decrease
- Reliance n mutual aid could be put at risk (another agency assisting and visa-versa)
- Home Owners insurance rates are likely to increase
This is a comparison between ECCFPD and CON FIRE.
ECCFPD Fire Engineer: $4,757
CONFIRE Fire Engineer: $8,149
ECCFPD Fire Fighter: $4,322
CONFIRE Fire Fighter: $7,395
ECCFPD Fire Captain: $5,028
CONFIRE Fire Captain: $9,186
Note: All salary information is the “maximum merit monthly rate.
Potential Revenue Measure
- Possibility A: pass a $197 parcel tax to keep the current operating environment and add additional station to service
- Possibility B: no additional revenues begin planning station closure and personnel layoffs.
- Misconception: there will be no automatic increase to $197; the Board is considering a 3% annual increase that will require approval before being implemented.