Wrong Again: Grand Jury Issues New Report on Fire Services

Yet another Grand Jury Report has been issued and it’s another report that should be thrown in the trash as its comparing all Fire Districts in Contra Costa County. What these Grand Jury members fail to realize is it’s not a one-size fits all solution as each fire District is different based on service levels and requirements

First off, I urge folks to be very careful about the rhetoric by some who will want to distribute this report as yet another talking point for the anti-tax movement for public safety. Just because these folks claim it says don’t rely on new taxes, that is not what the report is saying and if you read the report you will understand it says that only relying on taxes is not the way to go.

If a District does go for a tax to increase revenue, other things must go with it such as a sunset. But the report does state under Finding 4: In the short term, to provide the service levels that the public currently expects, additional revenue must be found for some individual fire agencies–otherwise known as  a tax that includes a sunset.

Typically, Grand Jury members are usually older retired folks who volunteer and for the most part are uneducated about the issues they report on. The other side of this is some of them are part of a revolving door club within the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association which Arne Simonsen has admitted to.

The sad thing about this Grand Jury report is they make consolidation out to be some simple process while it’s complex and requires many things to move in the same direction and it has to be a perfect fit.

For starters as to why this will be complicated, what ECCFPD receives from its taxpayers is a lot less than what CONFIRE receives which will be a sticking point.  When you bring up San Ramon Fire and Orinda-Moraga, why would they combine Districts to bail out ECCFPD and CONFIRE?  Why would the Board of Supervisors do the same? It’s illogical.

Even if CONFIRE and ECCFPD combined, you have now significantly increased your debt to around $18 million.

Finally, just because the Grand Jury thinks other areas used innovative approaches to fire services, doesn’t make it a good solution for our area.  The silly thing about this report is the Grand Jury is actually encouraging broke districts to spend money on consultants.

The example used about Los Angeles, Orange, Alameda and Sacramento counties are saving 10-20 percent a year in operating expenses through consolidation of administrative tasks such as purchasing, the jury report cited… it doesn’t mean we will experience the same savings due to our funding levels.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen put out a piece yesterday that didn’t paint the entire picture and some of her article points were contradicted in the report. The report did not say do not go after a parcel tax, it said if you do one, include a sunset and simply just taxing is not the answer—there are other things that go along with it. The Report stated there is a need to increase revenue.

According to Vince Wells, he was misquoted (his full statement is posted in the comment section below). He said, “just to clarify, there is very little in this report that I agree with. I believe their is just enough information in it to misinform anyone reading it. The only part of the report that I find valid is that there should be consolidation of the departments that cannot provide protection for thier communities.”

Also, per her article and the Grand Jury report, it’s unclear of who saw 20% and on what did they save 20%. It should also be noted that the comparison used is odd because ECCFPD is not Los Angeles nor is it even Sacramento–we are more rural.

According to the Los Angeles Fire Department website they have 114 fire stations that covers 468.67 square miles. It also states every day, the LAFD responds to more than 1,000 calls for help. On an average day, our ambulances transport 500 + people to local hospitals. Our firefighters enter 10 burning buildings, and suppress fire and other emergencies 24-hours a day.  Clearly, their solution does not fit in with what our District needs or should do because its on two different scales and funding sources.

This idea of one solution fits all for public safety is dangerous and nothing more than terrible rhetoric by a group of Grand Jurors who are not professionals with a firefighting background.

You can read the entire report (just 8 pages) by clicking here. It’s report No. 1211 or you can just read the findings and suggestions below.

Findings:

  1. Declining revenue and increasing personnel costs have placed many of the County’s fire agencies in a challenging, and sometimes dire, financial position
  2. There is a need to examine alternatives to how County fire agencies are structured and how they should most effectively deploy their equipment for the services they deliver.
  3. Under their current operating models, it is not feasible for some fire agencies to reduce expenses enough to meet projected revenue without impacting service levels
  4. In the short term, to provide the service levels that the public currently expects, additional revenue must be found for some individual fire agencies.
  5. In the long term, approaching common problems at County-wide regional level could offer additional solutions
  6. Other California fire agencies have successfully implemented innovative cost reduction models and strategies, often by consolidating fire agencies, after engaging external consultants with industry expertise.
  7. Creating and pursuing a County-wide strategy will require extraordinary leadership and cooperation at both the County and individual district levels.

Recommendations

  1. Any proposed parcel tax by a fire agency seeking immediate relief for current deficit issue should include a sunset clause.
  2. Any proposed parcel tax by any fire agency seeking immediate relief for current deficit issue should include a commitment to promptly undertake identification and evaluation of alternative service delivery models
  3. All fire agencies and the County should conduct, on an individual agency and county-wide basis, evaluations of alternative service models utilizing independent consultants with a history of analyzing fire agency challenges.
  4. Fire agencies, LAFCO, and the County should find ways to cooperate with one another in the evaluation and adoption of alternative service delivery models.

Required Responses:

Findings
ECCFP 1 through 7

Recommendations
ECCFPD 1 through 4

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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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2 Responses to Wrong Again: Grand Jury Issues New Report on Fire Services

  1. Via Vince Wells facebook post: Vince Wells
    Mis Quoted again!Just to clarify, there is very little in this report that I agree with. I believe their is just enough information in it to misinform anyone reading it. The only part of the report that I find valid is that there should be consolidation of the departments that cannot provide protection for thier communities. Specifically, Pinole and Rodeo Hercules Fire District, these departments only have one staffed fire station each. They should consolidate with a larger agency. The report glosses over the fact that revenue has decreased significantly since 2008. Con Fire has lost over 32 million dollars over the years. East County went from 12 million in revenue to 8 million. Perhaps the grand jury should focus on how to prevent a public safety agency from losing it’s funding based on the assessed value of property. Everyone wants to jump on the salary and pension wagon and gloss over the significant loss of revenue. As far as all the service model changes, be more specific. I have relationships with most of the fire departments in the state and don’t know what changes the report is refering to. Do you mean, Stockton, who laid of 39 fire fighters and reduced thier engine staffing from 4 personnel to three? Or San Jose, who layed off fire fighters as well by reducing staffing of their trucks and closed stations? Contra Costa agenices are already staffed at the bare bones level. We have know ability to reduce our staffing. And as far as the number of medical calls, OK. Dont send us to them then. Fire stations are staffed and located to provide fire protection for the community. Medicals or not, the stations would still be there, so I don’t get what the report suggest. The report is very vague and will only cause further misinformation and fuel for those with a special agenda. One last thing, who has escalating salaries? Pinole fire fighters loss 16% in pay, Con Fire has taken a 10% pay cut and have seen no raises, MOFD has not had any raises since 2007 and is paying more for their healthcare, East County fire fighters are under paid and have not seen raises since 2007. So again, the report is full of propaganda and no facts.

    • Frank S says:

      How does the Contra Costa Times screw up a quote that bad? Over the last few months, the Times really does have some screw ups!

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