On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a property tax transfer of $732,000 into the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District from the Byron Bethany Irrigation District.
During the meeting, Board chair Candace Andersen called this a “great thing” while thanking Supervisor Mary Piepho on all her work on this effort. She says this will help the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD)
The detachment did not come easy as the Byron Bethany Irrigation District fought the detachment and instead originally offered to pay the ECCFPD $200,000 a year for 5-years and then would retain the property tax revenue. The county balked at the proposal.
The action Tuesday allows for a detachment of 480-acres from the Byron Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) where the boundaries of the Town of Discovery bay and BBID overlap and after a LAFCO approval, allow for a re-allocation of those funds.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Piepho credited community members Bob Mankin and Gaylin Zeigler for being the “catalyst” for bringing this issue forward and help get the county to where it’s at.
Mankin discovered the overlap more than 20-months ago while digging into his Tax Rate Area on his tax bill. At that point he realized part of his taxes were part of BBID unknowingly and 14.9% of his ad valorem tax goes to an irrigation district that is not offering me any services.
Mankin acknowledges that with the transfer of funds to the East Contra Costa Fire protection District, he will now be paying some of the highest rates for fire service in the District.
Prior to Tuesday’s action, BBID’s jurisdiction partially overlaps with the Town Discovery Bay and both receive tax revenue or fees to provide water service, but only the Town of Discovery Bay actually provides water to the overlapping area and all other residents of Discovery Bay.
Last November, Supervisor Mary Piepho stated:
“Government agencies should not receive tax revenue from taxpayers when the agency is not providing a service. It is particularly egregious in this case as BBID was advised in 1993 that it was necessary to detach. BBID collected almost $700,000 last year without providing any service to Discovery Bay residents. This must stop.”
On Tuesday, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to allow the re-allocated funds to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. It authorizes $730,000 in property tax annually from the county beginning in fiscal year 2017-18.
The funding will continue to go to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District unless it dissolves in the future. Piepho requested that safeguards be added to ensure those funds be used for whatever fire and EMS services for the benefit of Discovery bay and unincorporated Contra Costa County.
“I want to make sure those funds stay to the benefit of the community and do not end up in a black hole somewhere,” stated Piepho.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff stated her concern as well about leaving it “nebulous” and wanted to make it clear on the intention of what the money was to be used for should the fire district dissolve and also wanted protections so the funding did not just end up in the general fund.
Supervisor Andersen suggested they add a line to say the “intent of this board” was to ensure that money goes to EMS/Fire services in the Discovery Bay community.
Before the transfer of funds can be approved, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District will also have to host a public hearing and come to the same conclusion as the county. That hearing is anticipated to occur on November 7, 2016 in Oakley.
Here is a copy of the staff report:
On August 10, 2016, the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) approved County Application No. 16-02, detaching from BBID the Subject Territory, comprising approximately 480 acres, where the boundaries of the TODB and BBID overlap, and approving the reallocation of the associated property tax base and increment to Contra Costa County. LAFCO also excluded from the areas to be detached two parcels in the TODB that are owned by BBID and detached those two parcels from the TODB. Both BBID and TODB had previously been paid to provide water service to the residents of the overlapping areas, either by property tax allocation or fees. In 1993 and again in 2014, the LAFCo recommended detachment of the overlap areas from BBID because BBID had never provided water to the TODB residents and, given the incompatibility of the two water systems, it was unlikely that BBID ever would provide water to TODB residents.
A protest hearing was conducted on September 23, 2016 at which no one spoke in objection to the detachment. On October 12, 2016, LAFCO received the results of the protest hearing and ordered the reorganization.
By adopting attached Resolution No. 2016/506, the Board of Supervisors will determine to transfer to the ECCFPD that portion of the County’s property tax base and increment that was previously allocated to BBID from the Subject Territory within the TODB. This transfer would occur each year, beginning with fiscal year 2017/18, for so long as the taxes continue to be allocated to the County, unless an application to initiate dissolution of the ECCFPD is filed with and approved by LAFCO, at which point the property tax transfer would automatically terminate.
The ECCFPD’s funding dilemma well known and documented. Due to the volunteer and extraordinarily small service populations of the predecessor dependent districts prior to the formation of ECCFPD, low property tax rates were allocated to fire service. The average tax rate for the District is 7% compared to 12% for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and 14% for San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. The low property tax rates were “locked in” when Proposition 13 was approved and when the areas served by the predecessor dependent districts were primarily agricultural lands. The small low tax-rate districts were consolidated into the ECCFPD and fail to generate an adequate tax base to support today’s suburban setting and service needs.
A lack of sufficient funding has required the ECCFPD to reduce fire and medical response services, including the recent closure of two fire stations, despite continuously increasing call volumes. The district currently serves about 110,000 residents spread over 249 square miles with nine firefighters in three stations and must call on aid from other fire districts to respond to major structure fires. The ECCFPD’s two attempts at voter-approved parcel taxes were rejected, perhaps due to a misunderstanding of the true nature of the District’s funding crisis and how it came about. On March 1, 2016, the County partnered with the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, and the ECCFPD to provide funding necessary to re-open a fourth fire station in Knightsen for 18 months; however, this was a temporary stopgap measure that does not resolve the structural funding shortfall of the District. Before the Brentwood City Council approved the stopgap plan, district Chief Hugh Henderson had described to the council incidents in which his firefighters were spread so thin that they were unable to respond to other emergencies in progress. In one incident, a Discovery Bay structure fire that caused roughly $500,000 in damages, more than a half-dozen medical emergencies occurred during the seven hours firefighters were battling the house fire.
The recommended transfer of the BBID property tax base and increment from the detached areas within Discovery Bay to the ECCFPD will provide the struggling fire district additional revenue crucial towards preserving fire suppression and investigation services for east county residents and businesses. The transfer will have no net impact on County fees or services because the County is, in effect, passing the property tax revenue previously allocated to BBID through to the ECCFPD.