Guest Comment: Urging a YES vote on upcoming Measure S

This commentary in support of Measure S appears in this week’s Press newspaper. This was a collaboration that could have gone in a hundred different ways. With such a complex issue, it was very difficult to decide which details to give and which ones to elaborate on. In the end, it was decided that this should be an a commentary that gets some constructive dialogue to occur.

My own personal opinion is that we can all agree that the idea of a parcel tax stinks and shame on the economy for putting us in the position to support a tax, but the ultimate priority of a community is to ensure public safety.  I hate the idea of this tax just as many of you do. But being angry does not save a life. Once you are done being angry, truly look at the consequences of a Measure S failure and ask yourself  if you can live with putting yourself, your family and community in danger all because you want to punish the District.

Punishing the District with a no vote gets people killed. It’s that simple.

Click here to read the article posted on the Press Website or you can simply read below.

Guest Comment: Urging a YES vote on upcoming Measure S
by Mike Burkholder, Oakley; Bob Mankin, Discovery Bay; David A. Piepho, Discovery Bay

On June 5, residents in far East County will be asked to vote on Measure S, a fire assessment aimed at keeping our fire district solvent and bringing the level of emergency services up to par with what the rest of the county and much of the state currently enjoys.

This assessment is being put to the voters, due to a long-term issue that has plagued our fire district for decades. When Prop 13 was passed in 1978, the apportionments of taxes were allocated for levels of services at that point in time. Since East County was mostly rural, a very small proportion of our taxes were directed to the fire district.

Currently, East County has matured into a suburban/urban area, home to many families, commuters and new businesses. We have outgrown what was deemed to be adequate emergency services, which were fit for a rural community over three decades ago. The district has been underfunded for years and the reserve account has been exhausted.

We have seen our district struggle for many years, recently moving to local control but without any increased funding. Control of the district was transferred to a local board so it would be clear that necessary funding would remain local. With the lack of revenue, our firefighters have been responsible by doing more with less, but even that has not been enough.

Financial reserves have been spent down, and most recently several of our local fire stations had to be closed and remain shut. Without an immediate change in revenue, more remaining firehouses will be closed and the entire district would be cut to only three fire stations serving over 250 square miles.

In this very possible scenario, many communities will be without fire stations, fire engines or firefighters. This level of service would be completely unacceptable. When a major emergency occurs, all of our resources would be deployed, leaving the remaining communities vulnerable until engines from other agencies can backfill stations and assist with any other emergencies.

While fire department staffing varies slightly from agency to agency, the industry standard is the staffing of three firefighters per engine (often one of them trained as a paramedic). Having a paramedic with advanced life-saving skills first on scene can mean the difference between life and death. Further, OSHA standards mandate that a minimum of four firefighters must be on scene to enter a burning structure.

In far East County our fire district has been severely understaffed and unable to offer paramedic/advanced life support, first-responder services to the citizens that it serves.

Simply put, we would have only three fire stations to cover all emergencies in the district, which includes Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Byron, Bethel Island, Knightsen and Morgan Territory. This is not a scare tactic, but is the reality facing every citizen served by the fire district.

The district does not have a spending problem – it has a revenue problem. Due to the nature of emergency response, it is equally as important to look at the district as a whole and not as a service to any one community.  One structure fire, one large grass fire, one multi-casualty incident or one multi-vehicle accident will instantly deplete the resources from all the firehouses.

If we as citizens take ownership of our fire district and pass this measure, we will begin the recovery of our emergency services to a level that many expect when they are injured or are in need of fire suppression. As a community, we need to insure our safety and that of our firefighters.

Don’t be misled by arguments that are inaccurate or focused solely on anti-tax measures. If our emergency services diminish, we will likely see greater increases in insurance rates offsetting any “savings.” Measure S insures that we will have the fastest and best possible emergency care available.

We have an opportunity to save our fire district and begin implementing fire services that we can all be proud of and stand behind.  As a community, the ultimate priority is public safety. Please join us in supporting Measure S.

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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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One Response to Guest Comment: Urging a YES vote on upcoming Measure S

  1. Jeff B says:

    I’m sorry to once again say that voting NO on this new tax is the only way to improve long-term public safety by forcing the BOS to do what they should have done previously…..Create a NEW county fire/EMS entity that is designed from the ground up to meet the current and foreseeable economic realities of this county.

    The interesting article in the DB Press on the history of east county fire departments clearly showed that as conditions and situations change so to must the ways fire/EMS services are delivered. Now we as voters must push for a significant change that is overdue. Adding a new tax that does not actually fix the ECCFPD’s economic sustainability problem(s) is not the answer.
    More than two years ago the new fire board and the BOS was called on to look beyond just sucking up more tax dollars, they were asked to, but refused to, consider alternatives including constructing a brand new Fire – EMS entity comprised of select elements of the existing three entities (Con Fire, ECCFPD & County EMS). To do this successfully the wage/benefit program would need to be completely revised and tiered. The unions will go crazy over this but the FACT is the pension programs have gotten out of control and this new tax will actually make that critical situation worse.

    As everyone knows most FD calls are medical so the concept of a new all encompassing FD logically puts (leverages) all EMS under the same direct management/accountability umbrella and at the same time fully utilizes management, support staff, equipment, special equipment (like aerial ladder trucks), POC and training across a larger user base. It should be an objective to virtually eliminate the in-house county EMS admin staff and overhead (like other counties have done). Lets put all that redundancy savings into direct (on the street) staffing that, on day one, will improve public safety.

    I am under no delusion that crating a new three-into-one FD/EMS entity would be easy but easy is for simple problems and this is not a simple problem. And I do understand that revenue still might be a problem even after creating a new entity….that possible problem can be addressed at the proper time (a bridge loan by the county could be an interim solution).

    And to repeat my key point….I do not support simply absorbing ECCFPD into Con Fire. That will not work and would make the situation worse. What I have proposed is a complete revision of the county’s entire fire and EMS function that will deliver ONE brand new highly leveraged entity with a wage, benefit and overhead structure that is much lower, county wide, than exists today. Most of the present employees would be offered employment but no doubt some jobs will be lost. That is what happens when you leverage to save resources and when you cut out county administrative functions. Most importantly the future burden on the tax payers of this county will be decreased at the same time the stability of fire/EMS jobs will be increased. I believe this plan would, over the long haul and across the broad population, improve public safety.

    What I propose will be hard for the politicos to step-up to and the fire employees presently paid at the higher end of the scale will hate it and some of those would be expected to quit, others might quit as well; attrition is part of any reorganization. This is the only comprehensive fix I know of for this long entrenched out of control situation. Otherwise we keep taxing everyone to death (even beyond the proposed new taxes) so that this one particular job can keep a pay-benefit plan that is totally unsustainable in the ‘new normal’ economic conditions we live in and we will continue to live in.

    This can’t be made to be about having sympathy for fire department/EMS workers who help us on our worst day or the immense pressure/influence unions exert on elected officials….this has to for once be about making proper long-term economic decisions that fit the new normal situation we live in. Anyone would be hard pressed to argue that county government did not let pension liabilities get out of control. Now is the time to add stability and fix the overall situation. It will be hard, it will suck but it has to be done or the spiral into total economic collapse will continue. And if that happens the risk to pubic safety will be outrageous.

    To be clear….under my recommendation for a brand NEW fire/EMS organization not every address served will be offered the identical level of service (just like today). In a diverse county under economic pressure there will have to be several service models and several ways service is deployed. I would expect most to see little change but I would expect some address, especially rural ones, to see significant changes. I would also expect crew sizes to vary, outside vendors (AMR, CAL FIRE, etc) to be used where needed and methods/models not currently utilized to be brought on-line. Not every vehicle will get replaced right on time and not every vehicle/uniform will match…sorry. It works in other places so it can work in CCC as well. These measures and increasing long-term stability of the fire/EMS jobs will improve public safety across the entire county.

    One last thought…..for those who say the county can’t put any of their discretionary funds into fire/EMS I say BS. If they can spend money on soda pop abatement they can spend money on fire/EMS (especially EMS which makes up the vast majority of all FD calls). Right now I call on every supervisor to cut their district’s cost center overhead by 50% and put that money directly to fire/EMS. I bet if we put this concept to the voters it would pass by a resounding margin. No more multiple offices…if they want to meet locally with constituents they can meet at a very local library or fire station. But who am I kidding, these are the same people who have dodged this critical issue for years while building their own fiefdoms. If anyone has a problem with public safety being in jeopardy these are folks to hold accountable.

    jb

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