On Monday, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District took steps to ensure a fourth fire station remains open by agreeing to work on a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Brentwood.
After a 7-2 vote, with Doug Hardcastle and Bob Kenny dissenting, the Board chose to direct staff to work with the City of Brentwood on an MOU that would move the Knightsen fire station to the City of Brentwood.
Under this scenario, the District and the City would split the cost of the station with the City of Brentwood committing $3 million and the fire district contributing $4.2 million–$7.2 million over 3-years.
Should the City of Oakley and Contra Costa County change their tune in the future if Option 2 is finalized, they would have to come up with the entire $7.2 million over 3-years combined since the fire district would have already committed $4.2 million of its District resources to Brentwood.
The District currently has a fiscal model that sustains a three station model with a 20% reserve over 10-years. With the $4.2 million taken out of that model, the future of the District sustainability is unclear.
Here is a recap of the Board Discussion:
OPTIONS as presented by the City of Brentwood:
- Option One: Amendment and continuation of the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Oakley, City of Brentwood, Contra Costa County, and the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District using the contribution amounts identified in Attachment “A” for a three-year contract. Per communication from both the City of Oakley and the Contra Costa County this option would be presented to their respective council/board no sooner than April 18, 2017.
- Option Two: This option assumes that the only agency participating in a Memorandum of Understanding would be the City of Brentwood. The City of Brentwood would contract for additional fire and medical services for a period of three years through a Memorandum of Understanding with the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, and would fund to operate an additional fire station in the City of Brentwood. The City of Brentwood’s contribution per Attachment “A” would need to increase to include the contributions listed from the other agencies, less the District’s available funding.
Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina explained that they held meetings and their initial focus was to explore the interest in extending the current MOU to keep funding for the 4th station in Knightsen—an agreement between the Cities of Brentwood and Oakley, as well as the county.
Vina said the Knightsen station will close this June as the funding runs out.
“At that meeting (Feb 29), the county and city of Oakley representatives asked for additional information, more specifics on the District’s Budget and better understand the impacts of three stations versus four stations, relating to calls of service, travel time and mutual aid. The timing and cost of going to the elected board, and know the cost to various agencies,” said Vina.
Vina says on March 20, the Fire District made the presentation and reviewed information previously requested—the chief reported the District as a 3-station model is sustainable in a 10-year financial model and achieve a 20% reserve policy.
Vina provided the same two options from last week’s city council meeting (see above)
For option 2, Vina stated they are prepared on April 11 to go back to City Council in Brentwood and finalize for Brentwood to appropriate funding for fire service. By May 1, get approval of an MOU.
Vice Mayor Steve Barr explained why there was two options.
“After a couple of meetings with the county and city of Oakley, we realized the timeline to prevent 9 firefighters from being laid off and the closing of a station, we realized we needed to look at another option,” said Barr. “It was a lot more than we planned on entering into the MOU but we feel confident and that important to our residents that we maintain four stations.”
Barr stated he looked at the two options differently.
“I’ve been on this board many years, we have been gone out to the taxpayers two times as a District and once as a city and been told no each time,” said Barr. “The end of the day, overwhelming thing we heard over and over was we need to figure this out with the revenue we already have.”
Barr said Brentwood is choosing to enhance service and that was the future as they need to stop looking at band aids for fire service—calling the SAFER Grant and MOU bailouts to the District.
“For me as a city, tax reallocation’s is all talked about and we know how difficult it is, this is a way that we can take tax revenues already generated and prioritize them for this effort,” said Barr. “It’s no secret that Brentwood has public safety as a number one priority and we support our police department, we want to find a way that we can add more fire service for our Brentwood residents. We know we have to pay for it.”
Barr also stated under option 2, they are asking the station be placed in Brentwood, but it’s not a Brentwood only resource and we serve the District.
Mark Whitlock of Bethel Island addressed the Board during public comments.
“As everyone knows where I live you can only imagine the thoughts going through my mind right now with a 4th station going to Brentwood,” says Whitlock. “
He highlighted how the areas of Bethel Island, the Summer Lakes CFD, and neighboring areas pay around $1.8 million to the District and they would then be getting 30-minute response times while paying those taxes.
“I think that is a real major problem. I do understand the call volume in Brentwood and would like to see that 5th station in Brentwood, but this is a District,” explained Whitlock. “Pulling that station out of the area would be horrifically detrimental to this district as a whole and we can throw on top of that, No offense to Brentwood but this is a district effort and I would really like to see Option number 1 and see the City of Oakley and the County to get that first option open. I would hope that the MOU from last time can be a cookie-cutter template to be sued for this one to extend it out for three years. I truly hope that is the only direction that the board would consider going at this point.”
Director Erick Stonebarger asked Gus Vina if at the second meeting that he got an indication from Contra Costa County or city of Oakley on next steps.
“There was not a lot of energy in the room for the extension of the MOU” said Vina adding he has not had communication since the March 20 meeting other than if it’s to be discussed it would happen at the April 18 meetings.
Director Meghan Bell asked Vina for clarification asking if they were going to consider it on the 18th, simply take it back to the boards or champion the idea?
Vina stated that he was speaking from his own perspective saying that there was nothing affirmative that indicated that these issues would be brought back to Oakley or the County and was left up in the air.
Director Joe Young stated he was at the 2nd meeting with the County and City of Oakley and agreed there was not a lot of energy for option 1.
“There was especially no energy for Option 1 in a 3-year format. There was consideration on the County side that a 1-year might be possible possibly a little longer than that but 3-years was not in the cards,” said Young. “The city of Oakley was less supportive. Admitted, both agencies would take it back, but I specifically asked if they would take this back as a champion of the idea and there was no affirmative response to that question.”
Director Doug Hardcastle replied saying he would like to speak on behalf of Oakley that he would like to take it back to his council and be a champion on the idea of keeping Knightsen open.
“Our number one priority is our peoples safety. Parks, libraries, they are nice, but cops, firemen are our priority. I will champion it; we will have more energy to that in April. I guarantee it,” said Hardcastle.
Bell, Oakley’s representative on the Board, responded to Hardcastle saying the concern was the time-frame they were on.
“In terms of notifying our personnel, we have the highest obligation to our personnel to send a clear message of a funding solution and if they are still going to have an opportunity for employment within the District. This is not something we can waylay,” said Bell. “I was at the meeting and it was very discouraging to hear that both of those agencies want to wait until April 18 when the City of Brentwood is ready to go now.”
Board President Joel Bryant stated that without any additional funding, the District will be going to a third station—the Knightsen station will close.
“The option of a fourth station open brings us an additional resource that without additional funding is going to go away,” said Bryant while adding nothing would thrill him more than the City of Oakley and the County coming in and partnering on the station in Knightsen.
“In my mind, we are talking about 25% more or without reasonable life-saving measures in a timely manner, that is where we are at as a board,” said Bryant. “Are we going to support 25% more resources or are we going to reduce those resources. Please, give me something.”
Stonebarger said the number one priority on the finance committee was finding a way to keep the 4th station open.
“This board’s primary goal is to put and keep that 4th station as soon as we can so that group of employees doesn’t start to vacant. They have already started the process. The time change puts us in a challenging predicament,” says Stonebarger. “I would hope the current MOU could be a model for building off a 3-station base.”
He added that he hoped both Oakley and the county would participate.
“Moving the station from Knightsen to Brentwood is tougher on Bethel Island and I can appreciate it. Not having a fourth station is tougher on everybody,” said Stonebarger. “We are at point where we asked for additional revenue and the communities have said no. Yes they support and value public safety but they pay their share into the taxes and you need to figure out how to redistribute what I already contribute and make public safety a higher priority.”
Stonebarger continued saying building off this three-station base service is the simplest and fastest option to keep stations open.
“My priority is the fourth station, if it takes moving it from Knightsen to Brentwood to achieve the fourth station then that is our base case scenario,” said Stonebarger. “If everyone is willing to participate similar to the MOU that we have had in place for the past year, then that is a great path to take.”
He explained that if they moved forward with Option 2, it doesn’t remove Option 1 from the table, but it directs Brentwood staff to begin preparing while considering Option 1 if things change.
Young stated the likelihood of getting a 3-part funding scheme is likely low and the question is not where to put the fourth station, is whether or not to have a fourth station.
“We are down two firefighters right now out of the nine it takes to staff the fourth station,” said Young. “If we lose three more, the station will close.”
Young called this plan a fundamental change and a new model that would provide fire service where agencies can provide the vehicle to fund that provides the safety.
“I believe the proposal introduced by Brentwood is a first step,” said Young. “It’s saying, hey we realize we need to do more and we are putting the money on the table right now and every other agency knew the same information about money at the same time as anybody else. In fact, on November 9 when the UUT failed, everybody that was responsible should have known we are out of money. It shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Young said they had to move forward with the sure bet of Brentwood providing funding for a fourth station while stating the next station could hopefully become a partnership between the County and City of Oakley at Summer Lakes.
Board Member Cheryl Morgan stated that while this type of funding model was inevitable, they were “Balkanizing the district” where the wealthier communities can buy fire service.
“Discovery Bay, they could put in six-stations and we have set up the precedent for them doing that,” said Morgan. “Those firefighters, just like in Brentwood, will be less available and the resources are not going to be shared across the district. We are setting up that process with this by allowing one community to fund a fire station.”
Bryant immediately responded by correcting Director Morgan saying that was not what was being proposed.
“What is being proposed here is an additional station,” said Bryant. “If the City of Brentwood had the money for 20 stations, every one of those stations would roll out of Brentwood on a call to cover the District. This is a fire district regardless of where the resources are stationed.”
Morgan shot back explaining the District is setting a precedent.
“That precedent going down the road is allowing balkanization. You are allowing communities to basically fund their own fire service if they so choose,” said Morgan.
Bryant cut her off saying “that is a wonderful thing. I am absolutely 100% for that because that provides additional resources to the communities that cannot fund it. Let the rich pay for greater service that is shared that can’t afford it.”
Morgan stated “you are assuming the shared part.”
Young stated that Vice Mayor Barr already addressed this saying that the Brentwood station would roll out to calls when needed throughout the District. He stated an example of a fire on Bethel Island where all of their engines are sent, plus additional resources from Contra Costa County Fire.
“After July 1, we will have to get at least 2 from somewhere else, maybe 3 if we don’t do something, but all stations in the district will move to where the fire is at,” explained Young. “There is a question of where they are at and how long it takes to get there, but the model that how the District will collect money for the District is broken. We have 15-years of history that demonstrates that the model doesn’t work. The land use agencies have allowed the demand to develop and have failed to fund the need. Each of those agencies has to be responsible for its own safety need and the dollars to fund it. That is what we are taking a step today. The funding and paradigm in how it’s viewed is changing.”
Bell highlighted that there has been zero discussions of the Brentwood station only serving Brentwood.
“Brentwood fully understands they are adding a station into the system to serve the entire district,” said Bell.
Hardcastle stated he believes Oakley will change its tune going forward.
“My only problem with Oakley is if you guys take the funding away from Knightsen, there is no way we can fund it on our own if the County does not help us out. By you pulling your money, you just shut Knightsen down without any funding from Brentwood,” said Hardcastle. “Now I apologize for people in Oakley who think the elected officials are sitting on our hands, but by you withdrawing that money and putting it over here, we have less fire service for the people of Knightsen, Bethel Island.”
Bell stated the alternative is going down to three-stations.
“I think Oakley, the staff and council will change their attitude where they haven’t been getting the story of what is being brought out here tonight,” said Hardcastle.
Bryant explained that the story they are presenting today is exactly what came from that March meeting between the ad-hoc committee, City of Oakley and the county.
Hardcastle replied those at the meeting got it, not the Oakley City Council as a whole.
“I do appreciate Brentwood is stepping up, I just wish we could wait long enough to meet and I have a little influence on Oakley to keep that Knightsen station open where right now there is no Knightsen station,” said Hardcastle.
Stonebarger stated he appreciated Hardcastles position that he was in, but the train was halfway out of the station and its up to Oakley and the County should they choose to create emergency meetings to participate.
“This doesn’t prevent us from the future to find additional money to open more stations in the next fiscal year,” stated Stonebarger. “The goal is to try and piece together another fire station to build on this until revenue flows a little more free whether it’s a re-prioritization from the three agencies that are funding, reallocation of property taxes, or significant enhancement of our property taxes. I don’t care where it comes from as long as we house more bodies on these engines to respond to the 6,000 calls they are responding to… the alternative is three and that is a significant dire direction to go to.”
The motion was made by Director Young and second by Director Bell to move forward with Option 2 which was to negotiate an MOU with the City of Brentwood for a fourth fire station.
The Board voted 7-2 with Hardcastle and Kenny voting no.