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
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.