After more than a 2-hour discussion Monday night on whether or not to accept a report by a Task Force aimed at opening a 4th fire station within the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, the Board approved the report in a 6-2 vote.
By approving the report, it frees the Task Force to attend both City of Brentwood and City of Oakley Council meetings along with the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors for approval to provide funds for 16-months to open a station.
According to the proposal, the 4th Station, whose location has not yet been determined, would open in January 2016 and would increase the staffing of firefighters on duty from 9-firefighters to 12-firefighters. The cost would be $1.4 million with the City of Brentwood, City of Oakley and the County splitting the costs based on calls for service within the District.
Under the proposal, the 4th fire station would be open for a 16-month period to serve as a bridge for the public who could then decide whether or not to support a revenue enhancement. It’s estimated the station would then re-close in June 2017 without an approval of a revenue enhancement by the voters
In total, here is what each stakeholder would pay over the course of 16-months:
- ECCFPD: $873,978
- Brentwood: $666,000
- Oakley: $382,202
- County: $311,617
- Total: $2.33 million
Chief Hugh Henderson began the discussion setting the table by stating the District has 3-stations which cannot serve the needs of the community; he then provided four examples of recent calls the District handled which highlighted how quality of service has been reduced.
“There have been over 60 emergencies whether it be fire or auto accidents where all of our resources have been dispatched making it unavailable for us to respond to other emergencies,” said Henderson.
Gus Vina, Brentwood City Manager, presented the Task Force proposal to the Board where he was up front in stating they had no authority to implement any of the recommendations, but rather just suggest them. The Task Force looked at both short term relief and long-term solutions.
“A critical component of moving forward successfully, which is a big deal to the Task Force is to include the public in the dialogue, the discussion, and the solution to fix the funding problems and operational issues,” explained Vina. “Super important is that we recognize this is the beginning of the discussion and not the end.”
In total, the Task Force provided three priority recommendations for the fire board to consider Monday.
- Consider a 2016 Ballot Initiative to fund ECCFPD: an exploratory team to be assembled to evaluate an initiative to fund the ECCFPD and if appropriate, launch the campaign at a later date.
- Use Best Practices to develop an Unconstrained Model for Fire and Ambulance Services (Master Plan): The task force recommends the engagement of consulting services for the development of a financial and operational plan that would identify how fire and medical services should be delivered in the existing ECCFPD with assumptions of population growth for the next 25 to 30 years. The task force further recommends that subject matter experts from staff be included in this discussion.
- A Fourth Fire Station: This would increase daily staffing by 25%
After hearing the proposal Director Joe Young stated he believed that the Task Forces figures were not accurate and more money would be needed from stakeholders if they were to have an honest discussion. He noted that within the proposal, there was not money included for a Master Plan consultant, polling consultant, grass roots effort funds or contingencies.
Vina replied that they have built in a little bit of a cushion.
Young stated, “I believe that cost will come to $200,000 bringing the total cost to $2.5 million.”
Director Greg Cooper asked how long it would take to get a 4th station open if everything was approved.
Chief Henderson estimated that realistically, they are looking at May of 2016 due to recruitment and training.
Director Steve Smith questioned the idea of going into a ballot during the 2016 and starting really late in the process saying it would have a hard time passing while competing with other measures such as Transportation who have spent two-years preparing.
“There is no doubt that a 2016 ballot will require a heavy lift and a big commitment by a lot of people, we have been in contact with firms that do this and its very doable,” said Vina. “I think we are all going into it with eyes wide open if we are going to attempt in 2016. Again, huge effort and again must be driven with community effort all the way through.”
Randy Pope, Oakley City Councilman and ECCFDP Board Member, asked whether the Task Force addressed reallocation of Proposition 13 and the imposition of a fire tax on new construction and if it was considered why was it not included.
“Quite frankly the conclusion to engage in any kind of reallocation process is not going to get you any of the short-term fixes for sure. Even in the long run I couldn’t tell you, it’s a long process. It’s a zero sum game. When you talk about reallocation there is going to be winners and losers and we felt like that type of engagement shouldn’t be excluded like forever in perpetuity, is not going to be timely for resolving issues within the District,” explained Vina.
Joel Bryant, Brentwood Vice Mayor and ECCFPD Board President, provided a history lesson explaining why the District finds itself in its financial situation by reading parts of Proposition 13 and how it came about in June of 1978—a way to limit property tax increases by no more than 2% each year.
Bryant noted that the District in 1978 was primarily agricultural and protected by volunteer firefighters responsible for less than 25,000 people. He noted there was no mechanism in Proposition 13 for evolution of the district from rural to suburban makeup.
“The accusations and calls for cutting budgets and misuses are ludicrous. Our budgets are open to the public at all times and so we have hit this time where we are trying,” said Bryant. “For the first time, the cities and county have come together to form a temporary solution. This temporary solution simply does two things. It allows a fourth fire station which will give mainly assistance to our firefighters who are doing a superhuman job trying to keep us safe and protected with woefully insufficient manpower and equipment. In addition, it will help us with our aid calls going back and forth and balance some of that. But in no way does this fix the problem, it doesn’t even come close to fixing the problem.”
Directory Young explained a second time the proposed funding from the task force does not include all costs associated within the recommendation while assumptions by the Task Force changes their budget which shows there is not extra money to hire five firefighters.
“The funding allocation is not clear on who is providing what new funding, it’s a little confusing,” said Young.
Young further highlighted costs were not included in the plan by such as the master plan consultant, polling consultant, no mention of the grass roots costs, educational costs, no contingency costs of at least 10 percent which he called a normal practice.
“Including these things would bring the total cost to $2.5 million and possibly more. This additional cost with double counted revenue would leave the fourth station effort underfunded by about $950,000,” stated Young. “I also have concerns about transferring of the board’s responsibility of deciding which stations are operated to the fire chief. This is a hot potato to say the least and when there is 250 people in this room making their case why it should be their station to remain open, they should direct their comments to the board. The board needs to make that decision, not a burden put on the fire chief.”
Director Young stated for those reasons, he could not support the package. He suggested the City of Brentwood (30% reserve), City of Oakley (20% reserve) and the County (10% reserve) could bring more money to the table to help make up the difference in the task force funding plan.
“I am uncomfortable moving forward with a plan that is not adequately funded,” said Young. “It would just get us into more trouble like it has in the past.”
Director Pope noted his appreciation of the Task Force efforts, but stated his disappointment that they excluded the reallocation of property taxes in the plan.
“I think that is essential to the long-term survival of this district. The 1978-79 numbers set by the California Legislator have not been updated and they need to be. We are not the only district that is suffering from that. So I think the state legislator needs to act,” stated Pope. “I was hoping this Task Force would come up with a proposal that all the cities and stuff could sign onto asking the state legislator to do that.”
Pope also stated his opposition of consolidation with CONFIRE saying our District was much more efficient that CONFIRE and would increase our costs dramatically while making the idea of funding even harder. Pope noted he wanted to see the numbers reconciled and sent back to the task force.
Pope was also in favor of placing either a new tax or higher tax on new construction to help fund the District saying the sooner they do that the better.
Director Ron Johansen reminded the Board that what this District faces problems that they cannot be solved by them alone and the public has spoken twice that they want us to find a different solution.
“I am appreciative that both cities and the county are finally recognizing the value of their participation in finding a solution for this district. It is imperative that we remember what was shared tonight. A woman shared some very personal information regarding her home owners insurance, this letter is not the only letter we will see in the next few months as other homeowners will see adjustments in their homeowner’s insurance policies,” said Johansen. “We will see them get an increase in insurance rates far more than any tax would be proposed or any assessment would be proposed and they will still receive the level of service that would be non-existent in parts of the District.”
Johansen explained that on Bethel Island, homes being rated Class 10 by ISO means you do not have a fire department.
“I am concerned that we are thinking about money here again, and I agree the numbers I would like to see addressed but I don’t think the numbers are that far off that we allow things to continue the way they are for this district,” explained Johansen.
He further highlighted that the District has a small window of time to do something and they needed to act tonight to move forward.
“The problem I have with every delay is it shortens that window of opportunity and we may be faced with the same thing again, to me the amount of money we are talking about is minimal if we do go to the taxpayers and move forward with some other process to get this district on stable footing in the long run, those moneys will basically work themselves out because if we don’t the district will dissolve anyway because the money can’t do the job. We have to remember, we are not meeting the public’s needs. Three stations does not do the job, neither does four. It doesn’t do the job as well. This district has to move forward, four stations barely lets us keep three stations open in my mind,” said Johansen. “Why do I say that, because there have been days we have gone down to two-stations because we did not have the staffing levels to maintain the model today.”
Johansen said he hoped they can get the numbers closer, but they have to move forward and explain to the public why four stations are not the solution–but rather this was a bridge.
“Four stations are a blessing and will help, but it does not come close to an answer,” said Johansen. “Is five stations the answer, I still don’t believe that is the answer because we do not have the needs or abilities to respond to secondary calls.”
Director Bob Kenney suggested the numbers be adjusted so they reflect the actual position of the District before they approve it calling the District the Ginnie Pig in the first presentation. He says the Board had to ensure the numbers were accurate before going to Brentwood, Oakley and the County.
Director Greg Cooper highlighted he would support the measure and it needed to be supported because they are time critical.
“To constantly put off a month at a time finding the answers trying to get information back only delays things out further. I think we can vote to move this forward and have parties work to get the numbers closer together and work this out as we go. That is probably going to be the most prudent step,” said Cooper. “The big concern to me is you have the chief talk about calls, some of the calls not being responded to, twenty minute response times on a fire… a 27-minute response for the fifth engine on a Discovery Bay fire is ludicrous.”
Director Young again noted his “significant concern” for funding a project that does not have funding available and being responsible for the project. He suggested that the Task Force rework the budget numbers and get commitment from Brentwood, Oakley and the County to get their approval and then come back with funding above the amount the fire District has included. At that time, the Board we can move forward.
“I think the other three agencies should have a chance to look at this and if they provide the commitment in cash up to the amount needed to fund this, if not, then obviously we can’t approve this,” said Young. “I am all in favor of throwing money at this, but I don’t think the District has anymore than $600k.”
Gus Vina replied that they only have tonight really before the schedule is impacted. He noted there are not enough council meetings between tonight and their next meeting due to holiday schedules.
“You heard the chief here tonight say we are looking at May to kick this off, when you look at the numbers we proposed you have already burned $130,000 a month starting in January if you started in March, maybe May, there is your $300,000 that we knew was built into the process which could then be used for consultants and polling and other things which we recognize,” said Vina. “
Chief Henderson noted that tonight this is conceptual with the final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will come back to the Board broken up by the four-agencies which will come back to the Board in December. He noted this would give the district some time.
Vina added that this is a very public report and there were city managers and chief of staffs of county board of supervisors involved in providing the numbers. He said it would be difficult that with these numbers published to then ask for more.
“Coming back with higher contributions from the stakeholders, I find problematic and yes these other agencies have reserves, but that is for their operations and needs and not the fire district quite frankly,” explained Vina. “This was an ask of the stakeholders in crisis mode to get us a couple years to be thoughtful of how we can come back with a permanent fix to serve the people of the district.”
Vina suggested the Board approve this tonight and allow him to present this to the other stakeholders saying the numbers are not that far off.
Director Smith stated there were some serious concerns about the accuracy of the financial numbers provided and that they need to be addressed but is aware of the time crunch causing him to be torn.
“The only resolution I can see is to adopt the resolution as proposed and I will propose a second solution to strongly encourage the Task Force to reconcile the questions that have been raised as expeditiously as possible with expectations that those numbers work out by the December meeting,” stated Smith.
Director Young again stated his concerns.
“The solution as put together gives a false impression of the funding that is available and funding commitment necessary in my opinion based on my knowledge of the numbers. Specifically, it misleads the City of Oakley that we can go forward and they will have to put no money in the pot. I know that looking at the budget, even if you take out $600k, unless the county and the City of Brentwood are willing unilaterally make up the difference, and they need to be aware of that before they vote on this we will have significant problems when we try and close the tax,” said Young. “Joel yourself sitting on Brentwood, Randy yourself on Oakley if you looked at this without being on the fire board and knowing the discussion you are having today your assumption is yes lets go forward with this, it doesn’t cost me anything more and I think that will make it very difficult to approve the MOU after you get the approval from the district. That is just my opinion.”
Director Jonathan Michaelson noted that while he agrees with Director Young, one thing he wants changed was the ability for the Board to decide where the fourth fire station be placed versus the fire chief.
“It shouldn’t fall on his head on which station should be open that should fall on our head,” said Michaelson. “I think that needs to be removed before I can support this.”
Director Kenny stated that the figures as show the District is “all in” but the others were not.
“Supervisor (Mary) Piepho stated that if other entities bring some money she would bring some county money, but not enough. The other entities have not brought enough. If we are putting all in, the other entities can come up with more,” said Kenny.
Director Johansen explained that he still believed they have to move forward and in favor of this task force.
“There is too much at stake to slow this down, our timeline is critical,” said Johansen. “I believe any action will have a negative effect or will have a decision made by the city conucils and council when this presented to them because I know they will have knowledge of our decisions tonight. I am not saying I want to rock the boat, but I think the boat is sinking and we have too many holes to plug and if we don’t start plugging them now we will have nothing left to save”.
Director Pope asked legal if they approved the motion and asked for the numbers to be reconciled and that they turn out to be unacceptable if they were still bound by tonight’s decision.
Legal explained any vote taken is a commitment to a concept and accept the findings of the Task Force to state together they are committed to working on a MOU and working towards opening a fourth station. Legal stated the final decision will come after a final vote is taken in December. Tonight’s decision is currently a policy statement.
Legal further stated that after all the other Boards meet, they will reconcile all the information into an MOU and if they get to that point and will include what each party is responsible for and will get back—which that is not there before them tonight. Legal also highlighted that they may never get to an MOU. Legal considered the figures debated tonight are merely and expression of the report by the Task Force, not a commitment imaged by them.
Director Pope requested that before the they voted, that they change the agreement that says the Board should make the decision of which station is re-opened versus the fire chief.
Director Kenny then asked the board to consider the idea that if they approve this tonight, if they really think any of the other entities will come back with more money than what is on the report tonight.
“If you don’t think that, then it’s not very attainable to make this situation work. There is no point in approving it,” said Kenny. “If we make a statement tonight, we still have plenty of time to get it answered and have them come up with some more money. I think Oakley and Brentwood and the County can do more. We have done all we can possibly do.”
Director Bryant reminded the board this Task Force proposal is simply saying we understand desperate needs and we are on board with starting the process of getting it fixed.
“We are not the only ones who will have desires that are not specifically listed here in the end conversation, what this is here is a mechanism to get to the end decision. With that, in the end, I feel very comfortable we will get to an answer to begin getting to a conversation to save lives,” said Bryant.
The Board approved a motion that changes the task forces recommendation (A-3) from the fire chief making the decision on the location of the fourth fire station to the board while working. They also changed the commendation (A-5) on consultants to the task force engaging the possibility of a 2016 ballot initiative.
The Board then voted to approve the task force recommendations in a 6-2 vote (Kenny & Young voting no).
This means that both the Cities of Brentwood and Oakley will receive a similar presentation along with the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in the next several weeks. The East Contra Costa Fire Board will then vote again at their December 7 meeting to act on the Task Force recommendations.
For the full Task Force Report, click here.
This fire board sounds confused that they are receiving money, since when are they in a position to dictate terms to the county brentwood or oakley? Take it or leave it idiots.
Attended this fire meeting in Oakley last night. Wish I hadn’t. We are in trouble folks. The directors don’t know what the hell they are doing. They discussed this item for almost two hours before they were told by their own attorney that this wasn’t a decision that committed them to anything. Then they wanted to debate it some more. Ended up putting some unknown control issues on it which made no sense. They overlooked the obvious. Two cities and the county were throwing them a financial lifeline, but the majority of them wanted to impose their own conditions and actually had the gall to ask for more money! Everyone in the room could see they were making a big mistake by trying to sweeten the deal that was being offered up. They are in no position to negotiate but that didn’t seem to stop these guys. They have absolutely no skills!!!! I would expect both city’s and the county to reject their conditions. With the exception of two of them, you wouldn’t believe their arrogance and stupidity. I’ve personally never seen anything like this.
Thanks for passing that info on to those of us who couldn’t attend. Care to allude to the two who aren’t (or are less) stupid? Might give me the slightest glimmer of hope.
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