Again, I Encourage the ECCFPD to Get Emotional

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:

District History:

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

Financial Condition

  • 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.

Budget Reductions

  • 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

Structural Deficit

  • 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

Salary Information

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.
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About burkforoakley

I call it like I see it . I love my city, I love my community and I want what is best for the people around me. Do the right thing, I will support you. Do the wrong thing, I will oppose you!
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4 Responses to Again, I Encourage the ECCFPD to Get Emotional

  1. jeff barber says:

    This is my take on the GJ’s ECCFPD Report, what to do going forward and the topic in general:

    NOTE…please do not get upset when you read this if you are BOS apologist or if you are solidly locked into the status quo. These are simply my observations, opinions and suggestions.

    Although I do not necessarily agree with every word the GJ wrote I do believe the report is thought provoking and in that regard has done a service to the community. The following comments and opinions I have largely expressed before but in the context of challenging all involved to refocus and dig deeper I will make them again.

    1, The CC BOS needs to be accountable in this whole situation. The BOS during this long and well established time of FD trouble should not have handed the ECCFPD off like they did to an unelected – conflicted board. The BOS who is also responsible for Con Fire and County EMS should have had the guts to continue with this FD and seek a functional resolution in conjunction with their two other related fire/EMS responsibilities. This was the worst possible time to toss the hot political potato. This was a chicken way out looking more to duck the issue/preserve votes in the next election cycle rather than to do the best possible job for the entire county.

    2, The term ‘new normal’ has, in society, quickly become overused probably because it is a good term that fits many current situations. And I think it truly fits what we have going on in this county regarding property values, tax revenue and what is available to pay for government services.

    Forget about housing bubble prices/valuations/tax flow. A bubble by definition is an anomaly that once gone is gone. Sure we might some day see appreciation but that is far different than thinking in terms of the return of outrageous bubble prices/values/tax flow.

    3, Growing forward everything public sector related should be done on a sustainable basis, not on a wishful thinking (historic) basis and not related to the hope for escalating revenue derived through massive taxation or some miracle. That goes for pensions, wages, staffing and capital spending….everything must have a sustainable formula (within the new normal reality). Our present FD/EMS issues need to be solved only with a ‘new normal’ outlook. Simply tossing in a big tax hike does not accomplish that objective.

    4, who says the ECCFPD employees are underpaid, and if you believe in some comparative standard is that standard any longer relevant? If you consider the above points I think it is just as logical to say (in a new normal way of thinking) those you compare against are over paid. Continually interjecting that this FD’s comp is some huge percent deficient is going to have to stop if there is any hope of developing a realistic & sustainable way forward.

    One key aspect of how the domestic auto industry was saved was the acceptance that not every union employee can expect historic wages/benefits. I think this reality needs to be strongly considered in this county’s current predicament. This is a tough point but one that must be seriously considered in every scenario where there has been a big revenue shift and where there has been a pattern of wage and benefit escalation in sync with anomalies like the housing bubble.

    5, Ask yourself… if the best and brightest fire/EMS service planners on earth came to this county would they devise anything that looks remotely like what exists and what the two fire boards are seeking to put temporary band aids on with tax hikes? Of course not. So why keep beating a dead horse(s)? What better time will there ever be to tackle the tough job of creating a unified fire service/EMS situation for this county that reflects financial reality and is sustainable going forward?

    Lets completely get rid of old thinking. It is ridiculous, at this point in time, for the ECCFPD board to ask Con Fire for a proposal to provide service to East County. What should happen (and should have happened long ago) is for the BOS to construct a brand new Fire – EMS District comprised of select elements of the existing three groups. To do this successfully the wage/benefit program would need to be tiered (like they did in Detroit). There would only be so many slots in today’s top pay range. Most/all ECCFPD employees would not be in that range on day one but over time, as those slots open up employees in the lower tiers would be eligible to move up. All new employees would of course start in the lower tier that probably would reflect something like the current ECCFPD comp plan. Clearly a POC program would have to exist to selectively supplement full time staff and to function as a feeder.

    As everyone knows most FD calls are medical so this concept of a new all encompassing FD puts all EMS under the same direct management/accountability umbrella and at the same time fully leverages management, support staff, equipment, POC and training. Lest make it an objective to virtually eliminate the county EMS staff and overhead. Lets put all that redundancy savings into direct (on the street) staffing that will save lives and improve public safety.

    6. Something to keep in mind when looking at station locations, closures and possible re-opening of stations. The one remaining station in DB sits right on the very western edge of DB. That station is way more than 10 minutes closer to many homes that have a Brentwood address (and are in a direct line of sight with the station) than it is to the majority of the homes in the original sections of DB. My point is, in the discussions that I heard and read regarding the various communities that do and do not pay their fair share, the true accuracy of the revenue base for each station was never calculated by the Brentwood/Oakley dominated board because it would have been counter productive to their objective of preserving service at the city fire stations. This manipulation of numbers is one more reason the BOS made a big mistake appointing this board with no mandate to go to LAFCO or to hold a membership election.

    7. Regarding tax rates, I think accuracy and semantics are important. Please don’t make it seem that within the ECCFPD we pay less tax. Yes, less of our basic property tax payment is directed toward fire but it is not as if we are keeping the difference in our pockets. We still pay the full basic rate, it is just that less of our tax dollar goes to fire and more of our tax dollar goes to other government uses. If you propose to use emotion (which I think is a terrible way to go, and will never lead to high function or sustainability) then at least be accurate and do not mislead.

    But if you want the fixate on taxes paid why not call for the county to provide a full accounting of Measure H funds since the day of inception. Why not ask the BOS to explicitly tell ECCFPD residents where every dollar they paid in on this supplemental tax went? Why has our fireboard not called for this accounting?

    Real accountability does not seem to be much of a priority within this whole set of issues. If emotion is going to be a tactic then lets emotionally seek accountability from the BOS who really has the power and opportunity to create a long-term resolution.

    Summary…

    I will not support any new taxation that simply pumps money into a failed status quo entity(s). I do not believe the ECCFPD should continue to exist as we know it. If the BOS does not have the guts to create a brand new and leveraged Fire/EMS organization then I recommend a true effort to find a Cal Fire based solution for East County. And yes, that would include probably a different shift structure and other changes that the employees might not want. To be clear… seeking a Cal Fire solution would entail a lot more than this fire board saying “hey how a bout a quote”. It would entail a real and true collaborative back and forth effort involving negotiations and strategic thinking …and to be sure it would involve change and require all parties to accept the ‘new normal’.

    Note…prior to a time conflict with reoccurring commitment with my son I attended (and spoke out at) a good many ECCFPD meetings. I firmly believe not making the existing audio recordings of these meetings available to the public via the district website is an attempt to keep the public uniformed. There would be virtually no cost to post these recordings. Why not post the audio recordings and let everyone who has work and family commitments listen?

  2. Bob says:

    Still pimping CalFire a year later, Jeff?

    You think today’s news about the state cutting you off from money to spray the weeds would give you a clue. But somehow you think those same broke people are going to save your bacon with fire?

    Funny how your logic tree works. By that I mean funny in a tragic way.

    • voter2 says:

      No Mr. Bob you want us broke people to save the counties and your dumb decisions.
      Mr. Burke, do you know anyone , who is behind on their taxes ? There are many. To keep asking for more eventually will not work. Like Barber said we all pay the same tax. To make comparisons with ConFire only shows the lack of decision making and responsibility of the County. They are in charge of not only the distribution of taxes but both fire districts. I’m sorry Mr. Burk for bringing this up but it is directly related to the story, Mary Piepho Supervisor of our fire district and responsible for its new board is MIA now. Great quote: ” This was the worst possible time to toss the hot political potato.”
      The county needs to combine the districts. They are in charge of both of them. Dilute the overpaid with the underpaid. problem solved.

  3. Pingback: Again, I Encourage the ECCFPD to Get Emotional « Support East County Fire

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