The following was written by Brentwood City Councilwoman Karen Rarey
I want to first applaud Mr. Scott and ECV for their efforts to try and resolve the lack of fire protection services in East County. On the surface, the proposed Brentwood Emergency Response for All Initiative appears to be a no brainer – increase fire protection without increasing taxes – Who wouldn’t want to do this?
But when you peel back the layers of the Initiative, there are many facets of the Initiative that Mr. Scott fails to bring to light, glosses over or misconstrues.
ECV‘s Initiative focuses solely on making Brentwood pay to increase fire protection services, yet the city of Brentwood represents only 15 square miles of ECCFPD’s 249 square mile district AND is also only one of nearly 20 local agencies (https://www.contracosta.ca.gov/6581/Where-Your-Taxes-Go) which receive funding from your annual 1% of Property Tax. Yet, Mr. Scott focuses only on Brentwood to supplement the fire district’s funding.
As we recently saw, when County open space areas (within the fire district) catch on fire more resources are needed over a longer period of time to put out the fires. Yet, Mr. Scott is only asking Brentwood to fund increases to those fire services.
The stark reality is that the East County Voters’ Brentwood Emergency Response for All Initiative would not fully fund a full fire engine company until YEAR SEVEN if the initiative were implemented. And that is IF AND ONLY IF the City sees “tax revenue growth” in each and every one of those seven years.
Mr. Scott says that we ignored his request to put the ECV Initiative on the ballot. That is NOT true. At our April 28, 2020, we addressed Bryan Scott regarding his proposed Brentwood Emergency Response for All Initiative during the receipt of the 9212 Report agenda item. At that time, we explained our reasons why we weren’t going to place it on the ballot.
In short, the next 2 years are good examples of why the ECV Initiative DOESN’T just take “new tax growth” into consideration.
Based on the initiative, for example, revenues can drop by 10% in a given year and then rebound by 3% in the next year. Based on the wording in the initiative, the City is allowed to forgo funding in the year with a 10% reduction but must provide funding in the next year when revenues increase by 3%.
Therefore, the statement that funding for this new appropriation will come from “new tax revenue growth” is NOT necessarily ACCURATE. In this example, the City would have to fund the new ECV appropriation even though revenue levels are lower than they were previously.
This Fiscal Year (2020/21) due to COVID-19, the City will experience an estimated $4.1M deficit (10.8% deficit) and in FY 2021/22 a $4.7M deficit. In this case, any growth over the previous year would go first to fund the percentage called for in the Initiative, not to the City services cut due to the deficit.
Depending on how significant the initial drop in revenues are or how severe a recession is, any increase will always go to fund the Initiative first before restoring City services. Which could mean that the City would have to put its own tax initiative on a ballot to fund those cut services (police, parks, recreation programs, social services, etc).
Given the economic outlook, even if the 2.5% trigger is reached, because of the unlikely increases in sales and property taxes revenues, other funding from grants, service charges, investment earnings, motor vehicle taxes, transient occupancy tax (TOT) and franchise fees will still likely be lower than expected.
The initiative focuses only on property and sales taxes and assumes steady growth, but it ignores other revenue sources (and their sensitivity to the economy) that support services provided by the General Fund.
Also, as stated by both ECCFPD and Fire Fighters Local 1230, since there is NO guarantee that the funding will be available each year as a sustainable source of revenue, it makes it difficult for the Fire District to increase staffing levels and/or retain staff due to the fact that there would be no job security. The lack of job security is because the ECV INITIATIVE is predicated solely on a funding revenue source that is NOT guaranteed.
Mr. Scott claims that the City has done nothing to improve fire protection services, which again is NOT ACCURATE. In 2018, I called for all new development to have annual fire-specific Community Facility District (CFD) assessments and increased Fire Development Impact Fees (DIF).
In 2019, in conjunction with ECCFPD (based on its adopted 2019-2023 Strategic Plan), Brentwood STOPPED THE HEMORRAGING the district was experiencing due to growth by giving ECCFPD a seat at the table through the implementation of CFDs on all new development, as well as adopting increased DIFs in 2020.
What that means is that those annual district-wide CFD assessments and one-time DIFs on “NEW” development will NOT ONLY “FUND” THE ONGOING COSTS TO STAFF 3 “NEW” FIRE STATIONS, but it will also fund the building of those 3 stations as new development comes online.
We can’t make new development pay for the deficit we are currently in, but we can make it pay for the impact it will have on the District – which we are! Had the County Supervisors set up district-wide CFDs when they formed ECCFPD back in 2002, the fire district would not be in the dire straits it is in now.
Despite a $4.1M budget deficit this year (and next), we continue to work diligently with ECCFPD’s Fire Ad Hoc committee to determine how the City can help to increase Fire Protection Services. While we hope to bring some options to the Council sometime in September, those options (if adopted) will most likely result in severe cuts in city services.
By Karen Rarey
Brentwood City Council Member & Mayoral Candidate