Last night ECCFPD Special Meeting was a perfect example of what can occur when the public is alerted, educated, and responds to an item of great urgency and forces a much needed change of direction by a Board. In last night’s case, it helped include a much needed Sunset Clause on the Fire Districts Proposed Parcel tax.
It was beautiful to see speakers one by one walk up to the podium and politely requesting the board change its mind to include a sunset clause. I want to thank the many members of the community for coming out and speaking and I would also like to thank those 6-members of the Board for changing their minds to include a sunset.
It’s was a big task to sway a 6-3 vote against a sunset to a 9-0 vote in favor of one.
Director Kevin Romick deserves credit for calling for that so called “straw poll” nearly a month ago that put things in motion to get the public engaged. Without a sunset, I firmly believe this would go down in flames faster than our firefighters could put out. This tax would have been dead last night without it.
East County supporters we can now move forward to educating the public on the benefits of this tax. The Board showed good faith to the community last night, now its time for the community to reciprocate the gesture to this board and our firefighters.
Here is a recap of last night
Prior to the vote, both Gil Guerrero and Vince Wells endorsement the tax on behalf of the 450-member International Association of Firefighters Union Local 1230, which represents ECCFPD firefighters.
“We are 100 percent behind this and our membership is ready to roll… We will be out there selling this, giving it everything we have. This is important for all the communities of East Contra Costa,” said Gil Guerrero of Local 1230
Gene Clare, a candidate for the Brentwood City Council, shared his story about his fall from a 2-story building where the firefighters helped save his life. While he has concerns about a sunset, he discussed how the parcel tax without it will not pass and its better t get something now, not worry about later. He hears the arguments about financials, but need to worry about passing this tax.
Vickey Rinehart, former Superintendent of Knightsen School District, essentially explained her own internal polling and showed that a Sunset was required in order to pass—she recommended 5-years.
Stephen Smith of Brentwood pointed out that the board always can go back to voters to ask for a tax extension, although he predicted that the economy — and the district’s finances — likely will have improved in 10 years. If the tax fails, however, “we know what life is going to be like,” Smith said.
Others wanted the board to be unanimous in their vote and support of the tax so that it sends one message while others had a standpoint that this tax is too important to risk losing in June by not including a Sunset.
Director Pat Anderson changed her mind as she explained how if the sunset clause would be one of the ways to help pass the tax and swing a few votes, she would be okay with it.
“I bow to change my mind,” said Anderson.
Director Eric Stonebarger went through the process of explaining how they went from $97 to $197 and at that point they made a fundamental change. He however seemed to ignore the public’s concerns on a Sunset Clause and recommended a 30-year sunset based off home values going up at 2-3% annual.
Director Jim Frazier stated that “I cannot in good conscious support this tax without a sunset. I just do not want to hand string a future board. To be effective, let’s make it 10 years to give the public an opportunity to decide. We are a voice for the people. Not a dictatorship. They can give us the courtesy to extend, revoke.”
He continued, “While I understand the concerns as Mr. Stonebarger brings up, but do not have a crystal ball… We actually need more money than this, but we can make a fair amount of progress with a 10-year sunset.”
Director Robert Brockman stated he was mixed on a sunset clause. He realizes with a sunset, it gives this parcel tax better odds, but it continues to push the problem down the road.
“I do not think a sunset is a good choice, but it’s a wise decision for today so we are not in a dire situation. I am cool with a sunset. I am willing to change my vote to 10 years,” said Brockman.
Director Cheryl Morgan is a fan of the sunset and has been. She stated tonight shows a real desire by the public to promote accountability. She explained that if the board screws this up, the public can take it away. If the board is successful, they will be rewarded with a renewal.
Director Robert Kenny stated he is not in favor of a sunset, but now we need it to pass. People are nearly unanimous in wanting a sunset. I am willing to change my vote, but I do not want to be here in 10 years when this comes back around.
Director Steve Barr stated his feelings on a sunset remain the same as it effects the long term.
“I think the public spoke clearly tonight and regardless of my opinions, when I first took office, I made a promise to myself that I would not be like public officials who don’t listen to the public, it [his opinion] takes second fiddle to that,” said Barr.
Barr explained he would like to see a 15-year sunset because it will affect the 7th station and services they plan to bring on board. Barr did state he was okay with including a sunset.
Later in the night, Barr made a wonderful suggestion about requesting participation from outside agencies in District’s public information effort related to proposed parcel tax. This should help get much needed additional votes down the road when others endorse the parcel tax.
By vote of 9-0, the Board approved a 10-year sunset.
About the Tax
The tax would apply to all parcels in the 250-square-mile ECCFPD, which includes Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Byron, Knightsen, Bethel Island and Morgan Territory. The measure includes an annual cost-of-living increase up to 3 percent per year.
If passed, the tax will allow the district to avoid laying off half its 48 firefighters and closing three of its six remaining stations. Two stations were closed in 2010 to cut costs as district revenue shrank with plummeting property tax revenue.
The tax would allow the district to staff all engines with the industry standard three firefighters. Two stations are currently staffed with two.
It would also allow implementation of a district paramedic program. ECCFPD firefighters now provide Basic Life Saving (BLS) medical care. Advanced Life Saving (ALS) service is now provided separately by American Medical Response.
Passage would also open a seventh station in year seven, and begin replenishing depleted funds for maintaining stations and replacing vehicles and equipment.
Beef of the Night
My only beef about last night was Director Erick Stonebarger proposing the stupid idea that rather than a 10-year sunset, he recommended a 30-year sunset. If you propose a 30-year sunset, you might as well not even include the clause. I am sorry, but I do not want to be nearly 65 years old before this tax goes away or comes back up for a vote. He ignored the public for whatever reason almost just to take an opposite side for fun.
To show his foolishness in this entire process, he talked about how he was set on his $97 tax and nothing higher, then supports the $197. He was dead against a sunset, now he is in favor? He wanted a 30-year, but then 10 minutes later votes for a 10-year sunset? What he is saying and what he is voting on is two different things.
I would urge those of you who can vote in Brentwood to replace this joker or have an intervention to stop him from talking just to hear himself talk. Its counterproductive and confuses people on complex issues such as this parcel tax.