On Wednesday, Gus Vina, City Manager of Brentwood released polling results on the idea of a Utility User Tax to assist the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District in a new funding source.
The polling showed around 40% public support and at no point did support exceed 50 percent for the measure in Brentwood, Oakley, or unincorporated areas.
The data also shows the lack of public education facing the fire district as more than a quarter of residents (27%) did not know the District has half as many fire stations open as it did in 2010 while 15% disagreed with the statement.
The goal of the tax was to assist the District in funding a 9-station model which totaled $18 million in new revenue to open six additional stations. A UUT is applied to electric, gas, cable, and telecommunications as a percent of the bill and the calculations showed that sufficient revenue could be generated to fund the nine station model into the future.
The UUT strategy allows each jurisdiction (Contra Costa County, City of Oakley, and City of Brentwood) to resolve its own fire and medical response service issues and fund their own portion of the master plan. This plan called for three more stations in Brentwood, two more in Oakley, and one more in the unincorporated areas of the district.
The UUT strategy called for each jurisdiction to consider putting an initiative on the 2016 November ballot.
According to the polling data by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3), they survey included 894 telephone and online interviews with responders in East Contra Costa in effort to to see the viability of a measure in November.
The survey tested a proposed general UUT tax measure, which would require 50 percent of voter support to pass, alongside an advisory measure that would ensure the funds raised were directed to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District
FM3 says the survey found that a measure to establish a UUT is not viable for November 2016, as it did not receive more than 50 percent support in any of the geographic areas, however, its accompanying advisory measure receives the support necessary to pass and would likely be viable.
Among the survey’s key findings were the following:
- Voters are optimistic about the direction of their cities and communities. While voters had mixed perceptions of the direction of their County (45% said they thought it was headed in the “right direction”), majorities felt positively about their City and their community. As seen in Figure 1, Brentwood voters are particularly optimistic, with 69 percent saying the City is headed in the right direction and two-thirds saying the same for their community. Fifty-eight percent of Oakley voters thought their City was headed in the right direction and 60 percent said the same for their community. Similarly, fifty-six percent of voters in unincorporated areas felt positively about the direction of their community.
- The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and local fire fighters are perceived very favorably in all three communities; views of local government are also positive but vary by area. In aggregate, local firefighters have an approval rating of 86 percent and the Fire Protection District receives 69 percent approval. This positive outlook is shared across all three communities, with the strongest approval coming from Oakley voters. In terms of local government, Brentwood voters have a very positive view of their City government (71% approve); 65 percent of Oakley voters approve of the job being done by their City government and 59 percent of unincorporated voters say the same about County government.
- Three in five voters agree that the District is in need of additional funding. Voters who reside in the District were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements describing the District; 63 percent said they agreed that the District is in great need of additional funding. Fifty-eight percent agreed that the District had to close fire stations in 2010, but more than a quarter of voters (27%) expressed uncertainty about this fact. This lack of knowledge presents an opportunity for public education on the continued consequences of funding cuts.
- Support for a UUT measure does not exceed the threshold for passage in any geographic area over the course of the survey, though majorities consistently expressed support for the advisory measures. In each of the three areas, voters were asked how they would vote on the pair of proposed measures at four points during the course of the survey. First, with no information other than the measure text itself, after learning more about the details of the measure, after hearing messages from supporters of the measure, and after hearing balanced negative messages from opponents of the measure. At no point did support exceed 50 percent for the measure in Brentwood, Oakley, or unincorporated areas. The accompanying advisory measure received stronger support than a tax measure, however, suggesting that voters value funding local fire protection services, but are more reluctant to establish a new utility tax to generate those funds.
According to FM3, passing a UUT measure to provide funding for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District would be challenging in the November 2016 election. Voters’ support for the advisory measure and perception of need for funding for the district, in addition to positive perceptions of the District and local firefighters, suggest that public education could potentially increase support for a tax measure.
The Task Force was first formed in June 2015 to help the ECCFPD find revenue and was made up of volunteers. This task force included the Fire Chief and Battalion Chief for ECCFPD, Fire Chief for ConFire, Chiefs of Staff from County Supervisors Mary Piepho’s and Karen Mitchoff’s offices, the President and Vice-President and Board Member for Firefighters Association Local 1230, the City Manager for Oakley, and the City Manager for Brentwood.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the City of Brentwood, City of Oakley, Contra Costa County, and the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District for the implementation of recommendations of the Fire and Medical Services Task Force.
This helped secure $2.2 million in temporary funding to re-open the Knightsen Fire Station which is scheduled to open in July with funding to expire in June 2017.
The recommendations included:
- the opening of a fourth fire station in Knightsen
- two-year temporary funding for all the task force recommendations
- formation of a grass roots, community based group
- engagement of consultants to explore the possibility of a 2016 ballot initiative to increase revenues to ECCFPD,
- completing a master plan for ECCFPD. In addition to these recommendations, the MOU stipulated that the ECCFPD move to an independent special district with an elected board, change its name to make it clear it is not a “county” agency, and establish a citizen’s oversight committee to oversee the implementation of changes as a result of a successful revenue measure.
The master plan for the District has been completed and was presented to the ECCFPD board on June 20, 2016. The Executive Summary for the master plan has been included for your information. This plan calls for a nine station model to adequately serve the District’s 250 square miles and approximately 100,000 people.