Letter to Editor by Johnny Merrill is Erroneous

I don’t know Mr. Johnny Merrill, and not to get personal,  but what a complete moron. That’s right, I said moron! The Contra Costa Times published a piece by him yesterday and I would like to expose this jerk with a common sense response to each of his statements.

While a debate his healthy, I will not tolerate Mr. Merrill and others simply regurgitating many false statements and opinions of a Grand Jury who was lazy and failed to fact check. The only benefit to Mr. Merrill is he allows the opportunity to show the people of East County how wrong his way of thinking is as well as the Grand Jury.

Let’s walk through this shall we.  His text in bold, my comments follow.

Grand jury hits nail on head

Dear Editor:

I would first like to commend the grand jury report telling the East Contra Costa Fire District that their service is adequate and further studies of other options are necessary before any new tax is sought.

Mr. Merrill claims that the Grand Jury is correct that service is adequate. What people need to realize is this is dangerous because the district is operating with reserves, as soon as July rolls around, services will no longer be adequate with the proposed cuts. The Grand Jury failed to take the future into consideration when the reserves run dry.

More to the point, why does the Grand Jury get to decide what is adequate and what is not? Why can’t I decide or each town’s council decide?

I would not think that closing down two stations while having many unfilled positions is adequate service. The truth is, the service can be better, but our firefighters have done a wonderful job while being handicapped financially.  I’d also like to make the statement that adequate is not something to be proud of or something I want. Instead,  I want the best and I want to be able to brag about how safe I feel due to our fire services. If I need to dial 9-1-1, I want to know they are coming in a timely manner and can put a line in me or have a defibrillator to shock the hell out of me if I need it.

It’s not clear to anyone why the district seems to think that if it has money problems it can rely on its sob stories and the mercy of the taxpayers to bail it out. It’s apparent the grand jury could see through the district’s sob stories and hopefully the taxpayers are also smart enough to do so.

Maybe it’s not clear to him, but it’s clear to me and many others so the use of everyone is a lie. With that said, as people have read, I’ve wanted the Board to use real life sob stories to sell this tax. Unfortunately, despite my repeated request, they have chosen another strategy to stay in education mode.  From what I am told, they are only allowed to educate at this point in time until the language is finalized for the ballot. The point is, no sob stories have really been used or taken advantage of–he is lying.

It’s also clear, for whatever reason that the ECCFPD has apparently not been reading the paper as to the actions being taken by other cities and counties that are dealing with the same budget reductions. Let me provide the answer to this question: station closures, personal downsizing, pay cuts, retirement benefit reductions and increased co-pay amounts by employees for their current benefit programs. Districts are being forced to tighten their belts and make do with the money they currently bring in, not ask for more.

It is very dangerous to compare others to East County—each area has different concerns and priorities it needs in order to function to the best of its ability.  Which Districts is he referring to–he doesn’t name one so we can compare side by side the tightening of belts.

Mr. Merrill has apparently not been to an education meeting the District has held on many occasions. If he did, he would realize ECCFPD only takes in 5% while other Districts get to take in 12-15% of the funds collected—this has to do with the way the District was created. Essentially, other districts are not in as deep of trouble because they get more revenue from property taxes than our District.

Let me clear in as simple terms as possible, this is not a cost cutting problem, this is a revenue generation problem.  While other areas he mentions about tightening their belts, they received funding in good times, ECCPFD received no additional funds outside of property taxes.

To the best of my knowledge, at no time have any of these topics been discussed by the ECCFPD as options or have they been printed in the paper as possible actions to be taken to get the budget under control. Instead, we have been presented with what the district is going to add if the taxpayers once again bail it out.

His claim above is stunning and so is he rhetoric.  Maybe we should ask Mr. Merrill how involved he has been in following the District, ask how many board meetings he has attended and how many newspaper articles he has read to see how much knowledge he has.  The Times rarely even covers the Fire District–of course their little news.

The Board has been discussing options for two years now, just in case Mr. Merrill was not paying attention. When the District was under the control of the County—they recommended their own Tax of $250 but did not act.

Funny thing, though, we aren’t being asked to bail them out to keep what they already have like other fire districts have been doing. We are being asked to bail them out with a much larger amount of money so they are able to expand their empire.

This is what we call a short term thinker.  It was discussed that around $100 parcel tax could maintain current service levels. Due growth in the District, it would be unsustainable in 2-years and we would be back in the same position as we are in today. A poll last March (I believe)  provided feedback to the District that voters did not want a band aid solution.

The Board is protecting itself by asking for more due to expected future East County growth, updating/replacing stations, and replacing/upgrading equipment. This is not a bailout as he suggest. A bailout has nothing to do with this issue; does this guy even know that since the bottom fell out of homes, the district has lost 35% of its revenue?

This is what we are being told will be added (if the parcel tax is approved): Would eliminate the districts $3 plus million annual operating deficit (indicates cost reductions are long overdue); increase staffing to three firefighters in all district stations (system has been working just fine at current staff levels); increase the number of stations back to the eight that existed before last year’s closure of two (system has been working just fine at current station numbers); place a paramedic on each of the engines on all shifts. Paramedics’ services in the district are provided and contracted through American Medical Response as part of the company’s contract with Contra Costa County (current services have been working well and don’t require an increase in full-time employees and/or staffing size increases).

Again, while we should worry about today, we should also be worrying about the future and growth of East County—Mr. Merrill seems to not realize with more people moving to East County, more service needs to be required and our firefighters will receive more calls. This parcel tax slowly brings back services lost and adds services by year 5–its not like everything is immediately purchased, its an implementation over 5-years.

Mr. Merrill makes this argument about money. This is not a money decision, it’s a service decision. Do you really want 24-firefighters covering 250 miles?  Do you want longer response times in an emergency?  This paramedic contracted out nonsense has got to stop. These ambulance companies arrive 5-15 minutes behind our engines—too much time has passed in an emergency situation. I wouldn’t call that working well as Mr. Merrill suggests.

Yes, they are contracted, but you also receive a large bill as well. With our firefighters providing these services, you get a hell of a deal at $197 for emergency services—AMR would simply charge you just a transport.  That is an investment that pays for itself.  The other portion of this that Merrill ignores is this is a duel-role for our firefighters/ paramedic—they can do both jobs at little cost to the taxpayer in the grand scheme of things.

All of these unnecessary additions add up to a hefty price tag of $16.7 million per year, which is twice the $8.2 million the district currently brings in. Well, this picture is very clear to me and I would think others. The district has currently been spending $12 million per year, which is $4.2 million more than they bring in right now, so they should have been making more cuts to meet their current budget already.

Why does Mr. Merrill get to decide these additions are unnecessary? I find them to be necessary to protect residents of East County. Apparently the board and firefighters agree with me.  By the way, his math is wrong; the projected deficit is to be just $2,873,198, not the $4.2 million he suggests.  Distorting the numbers to win an argument will get you nowhere.   His simple statement of making more cuts is easy to say, I’d like to know what more Mr. Merrill would like the district to cut. He fails to provide any examples.

But what does the district want to do spend more money that they don’t have? It should be very clear to the district why the grand jury said the current staffing was “adequate.” It’s because the ECCFPD has provided the service necessary to protect the public with the staff levels it currently has and it is not necessary to make any changes.

Again, what Mr. Merrill does not get is that this suggestion of adequate is on a budget that is unsustainable! Meaning, as of July 2012, services will be cut and immediately become inadequate. Again, adequate means just passing and good enough but it does not mean it’s as good as it should be.  The current budget problems and response with cuts will cause chaos with growth to East County going forward.

I suggest the district wake up and smell the roses as these are difficult times for many people and for the district to expect the taxpayers to pay the ticket for it to build up its empire is ridiculous and shouldn’t even be under consideration. I will not support any form of tax increase for the fire district and I will do everything in my power to keep this from happening.

Typically I would agree with Mr. Merrill on not supporting any new tax increase, however, I will not play roulette or be cheap with my emergency services. They need and deserve our full support. As I’v stated above, this is not something you should vote on based off a reckless Grand Jury report because this is not about the word “adequate” nor is it about the districts spending, simply put, this is a revenue problem which was compounded by Prop 13.

If one takes the time to look into the history and facts of the District, I think one would support this tax.

Johnny Merrill


Letters policy

Mr. Merrill’s  Letter to the Editor in the Contra Costa Times can be read here


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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17 Responses to Letter to Editor by Johnny Merrill is Erroneous

  1. Bob says:

    The problem as I see it with folks like Mr. Merrill and Mr. Barber, who posted on your other thread, is they lack understanding of even the basics on how we got here. They both think the only solution is reducing wages and benefits to near poverty levels of compensation for a professional fire fighter is somehow a viable answer.

    You cannot change the fact that we pay on average as a district 7 cents on the property tax dollar for a public safety service that the people in the neighboring district pay over 13 cents on the dollar for. In other areas of Contra Costa County it’s as high as 24 cents(Kensington). You have to reconcile that disparity before you do anything or you simply do not have a viable fire department.

    How that property tax dollar is divided is determined in Sacramento, not in Martinez. So Barber wanting to rail on the BoS is another pointless and selfish axe grinding attempt which doesn’t solve anything.

    People also need to understand that to reset those formulas and direct more money to fire, some other agency or service who receives a portion of that dollar is going to lose some of their share.

    The Grand Jury stating that current service levels are adequate while completely omitting the fact that do deliver this service level took a nearly $3M deficit budget to do this year is the height of buffoonery. It still amazes me that these people spent 6 months sitting in meetings to come up with this horrible quality of report.

    To illustrate the cluelessness of the GJ: They sat in on a meeting which was proceeded by a closed session involving labor negotiations. This is listed in the agenda. But they later issue a report stating the District needs to get busy with labor negotiations!? Their representatives were LITERALLY sitting in the room while one of these sessions was taking place!

    As for the suggestion this request for funding came out of the blue, that’s indicative of a person who hasn’t been paying attention. This revenue enhancement need has been identified for more than 10 years in various published documents and media reports, well before the peak in housing values even. Again, you can’t expect a service at 7 cents that costs everyone else in your area twice that or more.

    The “expand their empire” thing is also clueless as well as insulting. Mr. Merrill contradicts himself to say he wants the closed stations reopened, then labels that as expanding an empire. The 5 year plan currently on the table doesn’t even get us back to the 8 stations we previously had so where is this mysterious expansion?

    Same problem on the wages and benefits side for both Merrill and Barber. They both fail to acknowledge concessions that have been made for years now, fail to accept the existing disparity in pay and benefits to all other districts in the area and then add insult to injury by expecting our professionals to take further hits. To make a 6 station model fit existing revenues would require 30-40% reductions in pay and benefits with no possibility of recovering or even keeping up with the out of control health insurance costs.

    The whole public employees are overpaid mantra is both a sad joke. It speaks to ignorance of the public on the issue. Public safety receives higher retirement benefit deferments to make up for the fact that they don’t have Social Security benefits available to them that the general public does. So when these conversations get going and people look at absolute numbers without putting them in proper context, you can’t even have an honest debate.

    Some of this commentary is outright cowardice and I would point to Barber’s cut and paste job that has been posted multiple times before. Jeff just needs to put his big boy pants on and say that he wants to pay starting fire fighters at barely minimum wage compensation. Because when you run the basic math on his grand plan, that’s about what it amounts to. But he doesn’t have the backbone or the intellect to defend the criticism he’d receive for putting in those terms, so he instead posts these wordy messes to confuse the readers and offer himself plausible deniability.

    There is no question that our Country is dealing with difficult fiscal challenges. But I refuse to get onboard with these race to the bottom types who want to pay our professionals crap wages which not only degrades our service but encourages turnover to better paying surrounding districts. Jeff’s plan of dragging everyone else down to our level and actually lower should get immediate dismissal as both an insult and a joke.

    The parcel tax amounts to 54 cents per day for increasing your safety. If you think it’s prudent to shoot that down and take your chances with higher insurance rates, I have to wonder if you have all your marbles. Because when that happens, you’ll likely be paying substantially more to your insurance company and oh by the way, you’re still going to be dealing with a 3 station fire district with greatly increased response times and the inability as a district to even deal with a single alarm structure fire.

    Choosing that option seems about as stupid as shooting yourself in both feet.

  2. Frank Spinelli says:

    Lets see, you don’t want to get personal then you call Mr Merrill a moron and a jerk just because his opinion is different than yours. Mike, I think you owe Mr Merrill an apology. As far as that goes you owe many people apologies for the way you attack them because their views are different than yours.

  3. voter2 says:

    Thank You Frank. Mr. Burk is that way. Let’s not forget his twin good buddy Bob too.

    • Voter, stop hiding behind an alias… Would you like me to call you by name because i will. Bottom line, i do push back against stupid, i’m not the Times or Press and back down.

  4. Don Flint says:

    No alias here. I have read some of your stuff and been impressed. Too often lately, however, I find myself agreeing with the sentiment of Mr. Spinelli.

    The Grand Jury, Johnny Merrill, Randi Alder are morons, screwballs, disasters and other needlessly demeaning terms. And then you harass people who chose to remain anonymous.

    No one will be offended by you disagreeing if you can find some way of doing it professionally. Who knows, you may even earn the opportunity to preach to more than just the choir.

    Here we see Bob (somewhat anonymously – for some reason that doesn’t offend you) who I think is Bob Mankin, making similar personal attacks on people with whom he disagrees. Perhaps your rhetoric inspired him. Perhaps the fact that you agree with him keeps you from being offended by his anonymity.

    Your blog; your rules. But you set a tone that others will follow, and lately I think it leaves much to desired. You’re better than that – aren’t you?

    Don Flint

  5. Bob says:

    Don, playing guilt by association? Seriously?

    I’m not sure what gains one official internet troll status these days, but I think coming after me unprompted in 2 different forums in one day puts you in contention.

    The topic here is fire. A very complex issue requiring a high degree of intellect to solve the problem. If you stopped by just to roll a couple of insults and not offer even half sentence that could be considered on topic, then I have only one thing to say to you:

    Why bother?

    Would you care to discuss the merits of any point in this mutli-faceted issue or did you just stop by to throw rocks? Or is the subject matter just completely over your head?

    Give a guy something to work with here. I gave you a whole chapter worth of material you could chew on.

  6. Don Flint says:

    Dear Editor,

    From Bob Mankin’s somewhat anonymous post it appears my earlier post was less than clear.

    Allow me to clarify this for you: My intent was to request that you set (by example) a standard for dialogue that doesn’t include name calling and unnecessary derision of other community members.

    Mr. Mankin missed the point; He seems to all he took from my post was a belief that I dished out a couple of insults. I didn’t intend, nor do I see, any insults in my earlier post.

    You and Mr. Mankin both have much to add to the dialogue of important community issues. My hope is that your blog will, by your example, be a place where the community can read, discuss and learn about these issues. Personal attacks and insults are detrimental to such an environment. They obscure the actual issue (as these recent posts demonstrate) and also chill valid commentary, as the recent posts about rhetoric along with the lack of responses on the fire district issue demonstrate .

    Again: Your blog; Your rules.

    It would be a shame to see the results of your hard work minimized and for that reason I hope you will seriously consider applying a new standard to your work.

    Thanks again,
    Don Flint

  7. Bob says:

    No, Don, I got your point the first time.

    This isn’t about Bob and Don. The topic is fire. Do you have anything to contribute to the topic at hand?

    Or did you just stop by this morning to bully Mr. Burkholder into running his blog as you see fit?

  8. voter2 says:

    I read Mr. Merill’s letter. His opinion is his own. Some of it I agree with and some I do not. That does not make me wrong or right. That does not make him a bad person or any less moronic than Mr. Burk. Mr. Burk you have really shown your true colors with the sky is falling responses. You’re like a paid advertisement. Just like Bob with your cry wolf attitude that will only add to the defeat of this new tax. I think the people are done with always reading in the papers how public agencies declare gloom and doom if we do not pony up more money. Yet we are still here and so is the government. We have less money for food and clothing every time the government puts its hands in our pocket. The only way to make government listen is to send the message of tax reform with the power of our no votes.

    • Bob says:

      I can’t recall who coined the phrase, but it goes like this:

      You are entitled to your own set of opinions, but you you are not entitled to your own set of facts.

      The problem with the Merrill letter and some of the defending commentary here is that Mr. Merrill’s statements are completely divorced from facts on most of the key points. He contradicts himself with the empire comments and just generally speaks from what appears to be a position of cluelessness.

      Analyzing the issues facing the District and collectively deciding on solutions must be rooted in FACT. Not just opinion. You can’t just insist the District spends too much money with absolutely zero frame of reference as did Mr. Merrill and again as did Jonathan Silver. Some of of the opinions offered are clearly coming from individuals who are either not followed the proceedings of the last 2 years or they just don’t care.

      Voter2, your poor attempt to defend this is as non-sensical as the letter in question. You don’t like the fact that an opinion has been addressed as being poorly formulated and your response if that you’re going to teach someone a lesson by trying to defeat the measure!?

      That is one of the dumbest “I’m taking my ball and going home” responses I’ve ever read. Do you honestly think this District is not running at deficit spending levels with the current 6 station model? Do you not believe that there will have to be immediate and drastic cuts in service to fit the available revenue?

      How can we be having such juvenile exchanges about such basic facts this late in the process?

      If you don’t think that very real and very serious consequences do not await us if the measure fails, then I’d recommend you stop spending your time trying to take pot shots at others on the internet because you’re butt hurt for some reason and you instead start reading the meeting minutes and available fiscal documents to get a clear picture.

      You can throw whatever temper tantrums or make whatever threats you would like with your vote. But that isn’t going to change the fact that in the current economic environment based on current property valuations, this District only receives enough money to operate approx 3 stations at 3 man staffing.

      Stomping your feet is not going to change that nor is it somehow going to force the District to produce money from thin air to maintain the current 6 station model we have at the moment.

  9. voter2 says:

    Sorry again Mr. Burk. The only name that again comes up with the problems of ECCFPD is our Supervisors. I will hold the name of the particular Supervisor who as someone printed ” Tossed the Hot Potato off “. The paper today says how poorly these Fire Districts are run due to the bonds and unfunded pensions they constantly mortgage. I think our Fire District is similar. I wonder how much they are in arrears on unfunded debt ? I am smart enough to know that no one is more intelligent than Bob. Some times he’s so smart he surprises himself. What is that dollar amount Bob? How many millions of dollars does the Fire District owe its pension plan ? Don’t dance around a truthful direct answer because I will research it and throw it back at you. Orinda debt is 67 Million, Oakland debt is 2 Billion dollars. This is for the fire department only.
    Thank God Bob does not control my wallet or my vote. I do not want to get behind on my property taxes like some. I do not want to be in jeopardy of foreclosure as some. The tactic of the sky is falling is an old one. The excuses Bob comes up with are repetitious and speculative. I do not care what part of my taxes go to public services. I do know that I pay the same tax as every other Californian. This problem needs to be handled by the funding authority who is paid dearly to solve or prevent these problems, ” The Board of Supervisors “. Bob, you can scream until the end of time. I can’t recall who coined the phrase, but it goes like this: You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.

  10. If you are referring to Mr. Borensteins piece, it really shows how far you are reaching to compare what Orinda has done to our district. Mr. Borenstein is a columnist who is known to fib and exaggerate all in the name of selling papers–luckily I do not need to sell papers. With that said, you cannot compare two districts–its apples to oranges. By the way, stop making this argument about Bob and start making it about the District or I will honestly remove you by IP address from commenting.

  11. vote says:

    I do not do threats very well. It does say a lot about your character Mr. Burk to have such a closed mind about subjects. It is your site and you can run it just like Adolf Hitler or like an true American, that’s your choice because we are in America. To be quite frank with you, It wouldn’t surprise me if you did. Your acting just like Bob and his Piepho puppets with this control issue they have. But then again IPs are like flies. There is always another one to keep you honest. I’m losing more and more respect for you each time you step closer to your dictatorship like actions. I originally thought your site was going to be open and allow public opinion. I even had respect for you at first, but when I noticed your biased with Bob right off, it was apparent that you would begin to censure all the comments on here to your groups venue. I respond accordingly just as you do when attacked. If Bob or anyone attacks I will rebut. Bob’s M.O. is to condemn anyone not agreeing with his opinion. There is a saying that pops up about all Bob’s attacks : “He can dish it out but can’t take it”. I would like to think that you Mr. Burk are above that. Another one is “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” or something like that. Sadly enough it’s these types of hit and run piece approaches by you and Bob that will fail a well intended correction in our fire service. Maybe you Mr. Burk can answer how much unfunded liability the fire district owes before you boot me off for not agreeing with you or Bob. For the record, I agree on several points with you and Bob but just not everything.
    I just call it the way I see it

    • Considering you are on two names… I just might run this site like Fidel Castro. Tomorrow will you be voter3 or voter4? This has nothing to do with anyone other than the fact you make it about people and not the issue. So yes, its a warning. Your rhetoric is not going to work with me stating I am “above that”… always remember, those who cry foul often commit the hardest fouls.

      We can discuss the issues, no problem, but making them about people who comment is off the table. It’s probably not a good idea to call me a dictator when I’ve approved all of your comments. Seriously dude?

    • Bob says:

      Ahhhhh, yes.

      Funny how it’s barely a week and a half ago you didn’t know me. Those were the words you posted. Now it’s just one oddly personal attack after another that’s reflective of the history. Thanks for removing that last shred of doubt over who I’m dealing with hiding behind the belligerent alias’ vote, voter and voter2.

      For Mike: I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the twisted humor in someone calling you a dictator while you’re letting all of his posts through uncensored.

  12. vote2012 says:

    Think about what you have been telling me, then re-read both you and Bob’s comments. My responses are not anywhere near the degrading words you and your buddy Bob use on people.
    You’re a team of slanderous insults yet you can’t entertain the same type responses.
    Do you expect to get any respect with these words ?

    Here are words on only this post from both you Mr. Burk and/or Bob;

    Moron, delusional, stupid, rhetoric, short term thinker, selfish axe grinding , cluelessness, shooting yourself in both feet, throw rocks, hit piece, known to fib and exaggerate, this jerk , cowardice, non-sensical ( is this a word), juvenile, and a few other degrading words.

    You even defame the CC Times, Dan Borenstein, Johnny Moril, Jonathan Silver,
    The Press, and the Grand Jury.

    Do you expect anyone to take you seriously ? If you are any type of a journalist and not a lobbyist for a special group you will understand what I am saying. If you do understand, I think the good people in our City will support your site and respect you more. Think about it Burk. Just think about those words above as if you are the recipient of them. Do these words you have used gain support and respect or the same type response ?

    • Bob says:

      When I run across blogs with commentary I don’t agree with, I just don’t visit them anymore.

      Not sure what your problem is, Mark, besides your obvious obsession with controlling the message. That holds true in all forms of communication with you, in my experience.

      A week ago you’re telling him to stick to Oakley topics and now you’ve got your pom-poms at the ready if Mike will just get inline and run his blog like you want him to.

      You’re all over the map.

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