Last week, the Town of Discovery Bay Community Services District changed course and officially pulled its support of a plan by East County Voters For Equal Protection (ECV) who hoped to re-allocate funds from agencies and distribute it to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
The ECV plan asks about 30 agencies to shift a combined $7.8 million of the $154 million of property taxes collected within the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District jurisdiction to the fire district—on a voluntary basis.
Under the plan, the agency recipients of the ad valorem property tax to voluntarily shift a small portion (5.2 percent) of their property tax allocation percentage to the fire district. District taxpayers would not be asked to pay any additional taxes.
A total of six school districts and 5 irrigation district had recently come out publicly against the plan while Discovery Bay was the only agency who came out in support of the idea last November.
At the March 15, 2017 CSD meeting, Board Member Kevin Graves stated he originally supported the idea, but in looking at it further, he wanted it reviewed by the Board after more information was coming forward.
“Looking at the things that occurred since then, I would like to board to reconsider our position,” stated Graves. “First of all, there has been a recent redirecting of approximately $750,000 annually to the ECCFPD from Discovery Bay that directly benefits Discovery Bay. We are already paying more per capita into the fire district than the surrounding areas. Secondly, six east county school districts wrote letters of non-support for reallocation which takes out over 50% of the funds which we as smaller district would be asked to make up because they are off the table.”
Graves further highlighted that five east county irrigation agencies that have expressed opposition.
“In fact, we are the only one who took a supportive stance to that option with regards with funding ECCFPD,” said Graves. “By sending out this letter of support, we are really saying hey let’s take more money away from our community who is going to have budget problems in the future.
Graves stated he thought it was “unwise” for Discovery Bay to take their current position and asked the board to reconsider support and instead change their position to “oppose” while supporting the idea of changing the voter threshold to 55% on essential services—like the school district have from 66% to 55%.
David Piepho spoke during Public Comments and stated he was glad to see the CSD reconsider its position.
“This is nothing more than a shell game by moving funds and replacing funds. The unfortunate part is the reallocation part gets done, the voters don’t get a say. I think that is really important to point out” said Piepho. “If that was done legislatively, they take money from you, you have no idea how much they want to take, then have to backfill it creatively with bonds or asking for more money to fund things like the community center or our needs. By lowering the threshold, which I am not a big fan of, just like the schools, emergency services are very essential to us and at least we get a vote which is democracy at work. By changing the lower thresholds, at least we are then not dictated to by a minority vote.”
Piepho reminded the board that every study on the ECCFPD has said they do not have a spending problem, but rather a revenue problem.
“They are doing a great job running the district. They run on a bare minimum and small budget,” said Piepho. “There is no magic money machine except to get money from the taxpayers. I don’t want to pay more taxes, but when we hear response times of 11-minutes, we are kind of stuck between two choices we are not excited about.”
Bob Mankin thanked the board for discussing their position on the shell game ECV was playing with the community.
“There was a study done last year to better understand what the fire district needs to service the existing district for now and 25-years into the future which is 9 stations and $14.5 million over and above what they have right now,” explained Mankin. “It’s not an amount you are going to get by reshuffling the deck or searching between your couch cushions to pay the mortgage, its just not going to work.”
“Reallocation is a zero sum game. If you are going to re-allocate in Sacramento, whoever pulls it off, you are going to have to lose something to gain better fire services,” said Mankin. “Someone is going to come up and advocate from that entity you are trying to take money from, so keep that in mind. I will continue to support the fire district and support plans that make sense, but the ECV plan never made sense.”
The Board agreed with Graves and voted 5-0 to rescind the support on March 15 and encouraged the fire board to work on a long-term fix. Meanwhile, they stated they hoped to get a representative on the fire board as soon as possible whether it be appointed or elected.
Last week, the CSD finalized their position by approving the item in their consent calendar.