On Tuesday, the Oakley City Council held a discussion of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District where they explained their position on funding the Knightsen station ahead of their April 18 work session.
The Council was critical of Brentwood’s actions while city manager Bryan Montgomery explained that he believed the fire district has money to fund a fourth station for up to a year and there was no rush, as Brentwood claims, to enter an Memorandum of Understanding.
Councilman Kevin Romick explained that there were a total of two-meetings between the County and City of Brentwood, but reminded the council that Brentwood went ahead prior to those meetings and formed their own sub-committee.
“Why, I have no idea, someone thought that needed to get done,” said Romick highlighting that he was only in attendance because neither the Mayor or Vice Mayor were available. “So Brentwood called the meeting with two councilmembers, their city manager and four people from their finance department which also service as the finance committee for the fire district. Supervisor Karen Mitchoff and Diane Burgis were also there. There was no agenda and the discussion was about keeping the fourth station open.”
Romick explained how the fire department was not included and they had no cost of how much a fourth station would be should the MOU continue. It was determined a second meeting was to be schedule.
“We told them we would appreciate it if an agenda was provided before the second meeting starts and a staff report with that agenda before the meeting starts,” explained Romick. “The second meeting comes around and none of us got a staff report, none of got an agenda.”
He further highlighted how both the District and Brentwood made a presentation at the second meeting (Supervisor Mitchoff was not in attendance) and said they have a sustainable 3-station model with a 20% reserve and can give 4.5% raise to firefighters.
“Apparently Brentwood was under the impression that we were going to make a decision that day and were somewhat dumbfounded when I said I needed to take these numbers and go back to the council and talk about it,” explained Romick. “They said no, we need to make a decision today and I said no I can’t do that. Then Karen Mitchoff’s staff and Supervisor Diane Burgis said the same thing, they had to take it back to their board.”
He continued to explain how they did not come to the meeting to make a decision, rather to collect information and listen to a presentation.
“Brentwood was somewhat disheartened by the fact we weren’t going to make commitments that we were going to fund a station right there that day,” said Romick. “I agreed to take it back as we had our April 18 meeting, the supervisors said April 18 and we would discuss our participation and the merits and whether or not we were willing to participate.”
The meeting ended continued Romick where Brentwood kept saying they needed to make a decision today and again.
“After the meeting, a couple days later, we were notified that Brentwood published their agenda for the City Council that Tuesday night and on that agenda for the city council meeting they put this Option B that they would pay for it by themselves,” said Romick. “That discussion never came up at any of our meetings and never intimated at all. So Brentwood went ahead, made their offer to the fire board and the fire board accepted their offer. As far as I know, that has been signed, sealed and delivered and the fire station will be moving from Knigthsen to downtown Brentwood. The fire district and Brentwood will be paying for the fourth station.
Meghan Bell, Oakley appointee and vice president of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection Board of Director cut Romick off saying she wanted to fill in some gaps.
“I’d like to clarify a couple of points for you. What happened was back in the month of January. Then fire chief Hugh Henderson and I went and met informally with each mayor and city manager with Oakley, Brentwood and the County to share the fate of the District,” explained Bell.
Bell explained how they stated with the closing of the station, 9 firefighters would be laid off and reducing the service down to a 3-station model.
“During that second meeting, Brentwood did the ask if you will, and wanted to know if the county and the city of Oakley were willing to take back the idea of continuing the MOU or what they were willing to go with Council and Boards and champion to see for funding to keep that fourth station open,” said Bell.
Bell explained that over a 3-year period, keeping a fourth station would cost a total of $7.2 million.
“As a fire board member and director, I am 1 of 9 but I was charted when I was sworn in to do my very best. As a board we are charged with finding services to take care of our cities, city of Oakley and our fire district community. We are also targeted with taking care of our personnel who provide those services,” stated Bell. “When the fire district had the opportunity in the presentation, and it was offered to us, here is a funding opportunity to keep the fire station open beyond June 30 when it was set to close, the fire board selected that option. Excuse the phrase, but it’s a bird in a hand.”
She explained to the council that there was still time for Oakley to get involved. As part of the terms, the Station would move to Brentwood and respond to Brentwood calls quicker, but noted it’s still part of a district and would respond to Oakley and Contra Costa calls.
Vince Mayor Randy Pope stated he read about this in the paper which was the only reason he found out about it aside from Romick’s brief report at the last council meeting, he stated Brentwood is taking this money out of unallocated CFD money.
“For members of the public, this is Community Facilities District money and that are taxes and fees specific for providing a service. In Oakley, we have CFD’s, one over in Summer Lakes specifically for fire. It comes through Oakley taxes and goes to fire,” said Pope. “In Brentwood, they have a slightly different format where it comes in to the city and they decide where it goes. They have some discretion. That money could be commingled with money for police or for fire.”
He called it unethical as Brentwood would provide $1 million in unallocated CFD money to the fire district.
“To me, that is an ethical and moral issue that they are collecting money from their residents and taxpayers and not spending it where they are supposed to spend it. They are putting it in the bank and then holding it out with a little carrot and string to the fire district saying do our bidding or we are not going to give you this money that we are supposed to give you anyway,” explained Pope. “Then dictating where fire stations are going to be opened which I think the sole responsibility for that decision is the fire chief. For the operational necessity of the fire district and the safety of the people of the district which is serves, not some political gamesmanship that I dare say withholding these funds which their citizens are giving to them and putting in their care, their trust to spend on their behalf. “
Pope noted that he was no longer a fire board member, but if he was he would take serious offense to that while being critical of the boards 7-2 vote.
“I have a problem with them saying and we will let you dictate our operations, especially, I feel, that Brentwood should be giving this money anyway for the good of their residents that they are collecting the revenue from,” said Pope.
Pope also proclaimed he took offense to some of the quotes by Brentwood City Councilmembers.
“What I read from newspaper accounts, that some people in that city have been throwing this out as like Oakley should feel guilty for not participating like we are. Or the County should feel guilty because they are not participating like we are. They must not care about their citizens as much as we do,” explained Pope. “I take serious offense to that. Especially since they have been stock-holding this money and not providing the level of service which I believe legally and morally they are obligated to do.”
Pope stated he believed the fire chief needed to decide where that fire station should be open, not the City of Brentwood. He also stated his support of the ECV plan where they would take funds from all districts, not just the Park District under Assemblyman Jim Frazier’s plan (AB 898).
“I don’t think that has an icebergs chance in hell passing,” said Pope.
Pope stated that the ultimate solution was a countywide consolidation and the county should finish what they started when they consolidated all of their little East County districts. He said they should look at a regional approach.
Bell reiterated that the Fire Board is faced with a decision to close a station which is the reduction of 25% of the service model which will increase response times throughout the District.
“I know the board needs to make the decision on the operational necessities of the District, not on political considerations of a city,” said Pope.
Pope further highlighted that their lawsuit to build a fire station on E. Cypress near Bethel Island Road is moving in a positive direction and they will soon be ready to give the District a new fire station with a new fire engine.
“Brentwood is over here with strings going we gave you that million dollars a year to open a Brentwood station,” said Pope. “What is going to happen then?”
City Manager Bryan Montgomery argued that looking at the financials; the fire district has the funds to operate the Knightsen station for another six-months without any assistance.
“It’s puzzling to me that there is a rush for June 30 when clearly the money is there knowing that they are trying to achieve the policy of a 20% reserve they actually have the money to float that Knightsen station for a full year,” stated Montgomery.
Bell interjection saying Montgomery was incorrect and that it costs the fire District $3.7 million a year to operate a fire station.
Montgomery challenged Bell stating according to the documents, the year 1 cost of a fire station was $2.2 million, $2.4 million in year 2, and $2.5 million in year 3.
“That is correct and I would be happy to bring our finance committee, our head of finance before you to help explain those numbers and explain why that is and why it is possible,” said Bell.
“We through the UUT, were going off a $3.3 million figure but there is enough economies of scale to just keep this forth station open as a lot of that overhead costs that had been planned in the UUT was not necessary,” explained Montgomery. “I clearly see that the District has indicated that there is $2.7 million available from District funds for the next two years, which means there is enough money to operate the station for 1-year at the estimated $2.4 million.”
Bell replied she begged for the city managers forgiveness based on this level of questioning.
“I really need those who are much more versed than I am to answer those questions as I know there are very clear explanations,” said Bell who noted Chief Brian Helmick was here taking notes to bring it back to the finance committee.
Bell explained that Chief Henderson look at every scenario and there was not money in their budget to keep the fourth station open after June 30 unless there is a partnership.
“I think the answer we will receive back will be that is not the case, that there is money,” said Montgomery. “But we will wait to hear that.”
Councilman Doug Hardcastle, who also serves on the fire board, asked Director Bell if the fire board will have all the financial information ready for Oakley at its April 18 meeting. Bell replied yes.
Councilwoman Claire Alaura asked about the last meeting where the District accepted the partnership and the location of the fire station.
“Has anyone on the fire board said how about no, we keep it in Knightsen and would you still give us the money or would Brentwood renege,” asked Alaura.
Bell explained that they took a vote to pursue option 2 which was the Brentwood option.
“Since the MOU has not been completed, is that a possibility for the fire board to consider that we would like to keep the station in Knightsen open because part of Oakley and the rest of the county still needs to be served,” said Alaura. “Yes, another part of Brentwood would be served, you are cutting off a lot of people and access for timely response calls. I know Brentwood Is paying for it, but if the goal is to serve everyone, I would hope someone could say why don’t we consider this third option, if you would like to help and keep another station going that you consider keeping Knightsen open because you sort of do move the ball to that side and no one else gets to play. If that is not the goal to just serve one community better than the other, I think that needs to be considered.”
She said someone on the fire board needs to bring that forward and Brentwood should have to answer to that and see if they would still pull the money back.
Mayor Sue Higgins asked the question of the council if they needed a formal Oakley Ad-Hoc Committee like Brentwood has.
“Fire seems to be an ongoing funding issue and I don’t know because the fire district seems unable to secure its own funding at this time,” said Higgins. “If this is going to be an every three-year issue, every other issue, then maybe we need to have that.”
Montgomery stated the community already has that in the 9-member fire board highlighting that fire is not a city function.
“I think it’s up to the fire board to come up with that plan,” said Montgomery. “Help us for that little while, but in the future we plan to do is this. Otherwise it’s going to continue be a continued subsidy from the cities and the county.”
Romick said what he would like to see is that since the fire board is going to be elected in November of 2018, in the meantime he would like to see all the councilmembers get off the board.
“All that does is confuse the public about who is in charge,” said Romick. “The fire board is a separate government entity and have the ability to go to the public to ask for additional funding. That is their function and their responsibility and the more we play into this we confuse the public and they don’t know who is on first, who is on second, who is in charge or really running the organization.”
Romick further highlighted that the District has gone out for taxes measures three times and after the election they found the revenue three times to keep a station open.
“What kind of message does that send to the public,” said Romick. “The best thing to do is you as a board and you as a chief is to get up and scream you are in charge and this is what you need from the public.”
Romick explained that if Oakley was to give a million to the fire district, where do they cut highlighting all the road construction needs or lay off police officers because Oakley’s money would come from the General Fund whereas Brentwood’s money comes from a CFD.
He continued stating since the formation of the District, Brentwood has always discussed having their own fire district and go at it alone while showcasing how they went and got their own dispatch which was more expensive to operate than if they contracted with someone else.
Pope highlighted the City Gate report on what would be good service for the fire district and that the district currently has half a plan.
“The question is how do we get there from here and how do we fund it,” said Pope. “The current fire board and future elected fire board are going to have to come up with that road map.”
The next action for the council will be on April 18 where they host a Special Meeting of the Oakley City Council offsite and at 4:00 pm.
Special Meeting of the Oakley City Council
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
1250 O’Hara Avenue
Oakley, California 94561