By Bob Mankin
Kris Hunt of the Contra Costa Taxpayer Association (CoCoTax) chimed in to ask why the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFP) only brought forward a plan that has a 30% increase in staffing and didn’t instead opt for an earlier figure of $96 that she claims the public supported in polling.
To begin with, had CoCoTax monitored the proceedings, they wouldn’t have to ask the question. They would know exactly what steps the district went through to get where we are today.
They would know that repeatedly in community outreach and at board meetings the district heard that the residents did not want a band-aid approach. They wanted a real and meaningful increase in service levels. I know because I was there. I was a part of the collective voice that asked for it.
A little over a year ago CoCoTax engaged the district and brought forward a list of questions which they posed to Chief Henderson. I was not privy to the detailed back and forth, though I guess I could make a formal request for any communications that took place. But the point of the summary provided to me was that CoCoTax recognized that the district did in fact have real fiscal issues to include CAPEX needs for upgrades of older infrastructure.
But while CoCoTax saw the needs, they would not support what at the time was a benefit assessment proposal of $96. You are reading that correct, CoCoTax told district officials they would not support that benefit assessment number.
So why is Kris Hunt insisting today that the district should be going back to that? I believe at the time she may even have gotten up at a public meeting to state they would not support.
In the earlier thread (via Facebook), Director Steve Barr offered a bit of detail about why the assessment was not pursued. It wasn’t due to the CoCoTax opposition.
It was because it was a legally indefensible figure, obtained through a polling process that the California Supreme Court ruled in July 2008 was illegal. I know, because I brought this to the board’s attention at the time which is what gave them pause and ultimately resulted in Counsel advising them to abort the effort.
The ruling, if anyone is interested in looking it up, is Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association vs. Santa Clara Open Space Authority. The gist of it is, you cannot collect a benefit assessment if you cannot show me that I’m getting a dollar of services for the dollar I gave you. It’s different from a special tax in the way that money can be used. Now it has the advantage of a lower voter threshold and that may be a source of the opposition on Ms. Hunt’s part. She would have to weigh in.
But another key point of the Supreme Court ruling was that you cannot poll voters to determine what the maximum amount they will pay in a tax or assessment is without providing them a clear definition of what the benefit they are going to receive is. If you read the Court’s opinion at the end of the document, you might see as I do that it is almost tailor made written for the polling situation that took place with the consultants who did the work for ECCFPD.
Based on the above, this begs a few of rather important questions for CoCoTax and Ms. Hunt.
- Why is the stance of CoCoTax on the $96 figure a 180 degree switch from just a year ago? Ms. Hunt has repeatedly stated that there was support for the $96 figure. That support never rose above the 56% approval level, which is clearly only sufficient for a benefit assessment approval. If she were intending it to be a special tax, that would have the 2/3 approval threshold and her statements would, at best, be intentionally misleading. Because polled approval did not meet the threshold required for passage at the ballot box.
- How is it that the Executive Director of a taxpayer association isn’t aware of a landmark decision such as that which affected another taxpayer association not far from her? Or is this a case of ignorance and CoCoTax simply didn’t understand the legal ramifications of the ruling?
- Why, in light of the ruling, is CoCoTax now repeatedly insisting that the district should go back and act in direct conflict with that ruling and potentially put themselves in legal jeopardy? Remember, the amount of $96 was only polling what taxpayers were willing to pay. Not whether they would accept X services for Y dollars.
Can Ms. Hunt step forward to address these salient points?
Finally, Ms. Hunt, why is it you find a need to reach out from your comfortable spot in central county where you enjoy a much higher level of service to TELL ME I should live with a much lower level of service? A level which puts my family in considerable danger.
How about just putting out the truth for a change? How about simple pros and cons?
Yes, the $197 is a considerable amount of money in tough times. Now where are the consequences to your approach noted? I don’t recall you stating even a one. I can point to a couple of big ones if you’re having trouble identifying them.
Let the voters of East County decide the level of service they want without all the lies and deception. Such as citing pension figures for San Ramon Valley retirees. There is absolutely ZERO mingling of funding or liabilities. You might as well be talking about New York City. It’s a dishonest approach.
I have no doubt that if this measure fails CoCoTax will be crowing about taking a lead role in the defeat. But you won’t seem them taking any responsibility for the consequences the residents will face as a result of the measure going down.
In fact they are already deflecting it. That’s a complete lack of integrity on the part of CoCoTax.
Jim Mathers also has question for the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association.
I think you said it right in the debate that “Mr. Wells is the expert in this field”. Please keep in mind that the expansion that you talk about is 1. to get the 2 stations that are currently at two person staffing to three and 2.) The additional staffing will only come from additional growth. That might be in year four or it might be in year eight. Neither you nor I are that good to see what the future of our community will be in growth. But, we do know what the near future brings. Close 3 stations, layoff 16 firefighters, to respond to over 6,000 calls in a district that covers 105,000 citizens, 249 square miles, 100 miles of waterway, and several senior housing complexes that depend on us.
As I have said publicly before, we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. Caused by 1978 Proposition 13.
Please tell me if the proposed plan won’t work, then what plan of yours will? I would like it to include numbers since most of your comments include statements. As the President of the Contra Costa Tax Payers Association, you should be able to do that. People want numbers in this case, not the statements that are made and see what sticks approach.
I look forward to your response. Thank you for your time.