What happened last night at the East Contra Costa County Fire District Board meeting was quite sickening to me. It was an example of what seems to be the latest craze in this country. Let’s engage in an all-out war against politicians and labor unions without a plan or any defined leadership. I believe they call it the “mob mentality”.
Those with personal agenda’s put out bogus information to disrupt the normal governmental process. Well as a veteran Captain that I worked for would say after we made a stupid decision based on emotions or lack of education, “We showed us”.
We all stood around last night waiting for the Fire Board to make a decision on how to arrange the chairs on the Titanic.
I don’t want to say I told you so, but… Where are we now?
The District is out of money, fire fighters will be laid off. It was going to be 16, but the death of Willie West, saved one job, so now it will be 15. Stations will be closed, right in the middle of what has already been proven to be a very active fire season. Three days before the 4th of July, East County will be down to 9 fire fighters on duty to cover 240 square miles, 100 miles of recreational waterways, and over 105,000 people.
All that is left now is for the insurance rates to increase. When and if this happens, there will be nothing anyone can do about it for quite some time.
We will begin contract negotiations, create a new tier, and it won’t save any money until 25 years from now when that new tier starts retiring. East County Fire Protection District has taken a significant step backwards.
Many of the voters were not aware of the source of the problem and were misled by angry community activist, the CoCo Tax Payers group, and unfortunately the biggest contributor to the misinformation, the Contra Costa Times.
In a meeting we had with the Times last year, we warned them of this potential outcome of their campaign against public safety. Attacking high speed rail or a water tax is one thing, but jeopardizing public safety is another. If there is not a miracle in the works, they will have plenty to write about.
Those of us, including the Fire Board, the Fire District, the fire fighters, and the community members that were interested, have been working on this for years. The problem is quite simple, but the solution is very complicated. The Fire District is funded 95% by property taxes. 1% of the property taxes you pay are divided amongst the special districts, this includes; schools, water, sanitation, and fire services. In 1978 the amount of the 1% for fire was set at a rural fire department rate. This was an average of 6%.
In most of the other fire districts in the county, the amount averages to be around 14%. The population grew, the housing market brought in people and new businesses. The tax rate could not be changes due to prop 13 rules, so here we are.
In 2007 the District brought in $12 million dollars, which was not enough then. It dropped to $8 million now due to the decrease in property tax revenue! Yes and due to the market crash, pension cost went up, gas prices went up, and so did healthcare and the cost of living. That happened everywhere. But folks, you lost $4 million dollars in revenue in a fire district that was already $4 million short.
This is the main problem, other cost are secondary and are being addressed.
Last point, the parcel tax proposal came with a 10 year plan. It was a plan, a template. With my experience with budgets and how they change, in my opinion, way too much emphasis was placed on this document. None of it was set in stone. The tax itself has the clause that said the Fire Board could choose to collect it all or none of it, each year. All those who were concerned about frivolous spending would have been better served with making sure that it was necessary by showing up to the meetings and keeping everyone honest. That is how the government is supposed to work.
Now it is so easy to call them all crooks, vote against their decisions, and deal with the consequences.
As a fire fighter, I can assure you that our services are vital to a community. Before you vote on a measure that involves your personal safety, and the safety of your children, friends, and family, make it an informed decision. I am not saying you should believe me or anyone else check the facts!
This issue has been being worked on for many years. Measure S was the plan. Now it is back to the drawing board without any money left to begin to solve the problem.
Over 33 community meetings were held prior to Measure S coming to the ballot. All those engaged moved the plan forward. Less than 500 people attended the meetings from what I have been told. There are over 105,000 people in the fire district, but most of them didn’t even come out to vote!
We showed us!
President, Local 1230
Contra Costa Professional Firefighters