In 2017, the community deserves to have an honest debate about what level of fire service it would like from the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District – along with finding a level of comfort its willing to fund.
In the last several years, voters were hit with three potential tax options that would enable the ECCFPD to increase its service levels from 3-stations to 5-stations. Each time they were fought by the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association and the East Bay Times Editorial Board. All three tax attempts failed miserably.
Sadly, each time, the Districts communication and outreach to the public was lackluster at best. Upon rejection by the voters, the fire board then failed to gauge why the public rejected the tax.
Instead, it went full steam ahead into the next tax attempt without learning anything about what the public actually wanted or would consider buying into. The community has stated it does not want a band-aid fix, two or three step process and show they do not trust the leadership of the fire board.
The District’s Board had the audacity to think it knew best and instead were crushed at the ballot box with the “our way” or “people will die” mantra to sell a tax three times.
What is worse, because of the fire board’s own stubbornness and failure to properly communicate with the public, it now has a third group called East County Voters for Equal Protection (ECV) which it must overcome.
ECV, who have issued 67 press releases, has been on the attack of the ECCFPD for not attempting to go after reallocation from roughly 30-entities who they say could potentially “give up” revenue to the fire District to re-open closed fire stations.
Under the “ECV Plan”, they call for a redistribution of 5.2% of future property taxes to add more than $7.8 million in tax revenue to the District.
Foolishly, the Fire District has ignored ECV as opposed to take them to task for such a proposal and showcase why its flawed and cannot be accomplished—even under a perfect scenario.
By not taking them to task, ECV continues to promote an idea that anti-tax folks do support, which is a fire solution without additional taxes being paid. The plan is both creative and sexy, it also sounds good during a presentation and to uneducated voters, but it’s also highly illegal under State Law (99.02. Computations for transfer of revenues between local agencies)
(f) No local agency shall transfer property tax revenue pursuant to this section unless each of the following conditions exists:
(1) The transferring agency determines that revenues are available for this purpose.
(2) The transfer will not result in any increase in the ratio between the amount of revenues of the transferring agency that are generated by regulatory licenses, use charges, user fees, or assessments and the amount of revenues of the transferring agency used to finance services provided by the transferring agency.
(3) The transfer will not impair the ability of the transferring agency to provide existing services.
(4) The transfer will not result in a reduction of property tax revenues to school entities.
For starters, the plan includes school districts giving up funds—which ECV continues to ignore State Law (4) that prohibits school districts from giving up Property Tax Revenue to another agency. With 65% of ECV funding plan off the table thanks to State Law, their math is inaccurate and would mean a larger piece of the pie to be paid by agencies voluntarily giving up money.
According to Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery, school districts would fund $5.1 million of the $7.8 million ECV is suggesting go to the fire district.
Sadly, instead of approaching the 30-entities and asking if they are “in” or “out” on a re-allocation plan where they would give up their future funding, ECV has been writing useless anti-tax rhetoric press releases intentionally misleading the public with opinions, mischaracterizing both board members and city managers, while using false numbers such as the county’s budget of $1.3 billion. Yes, the County has $1.3 billion, but only $300 million of that is discretionary money.
Typically, the first step in seeing if a plan would be workable is gauging the interest of the entities one seeks to take money from. ECV, or anyone else for that matter, has no idea if any agency is willing to give up funding—this number will likely be zero.
It would be nice for ECV to do their homework before sending out 67 press releases misinforming the public. After all, it’s 30 phone calls or presentations asking entities if they are “in” or “out” and then approach the fire board with the number willing to contribute—whether it’s all 30 or 10, or just 2. If it’s zero, which we suspect it to be, then it’s time to move on.
ECV likely knows the number is zero so it’s resorting to shaming public officials and stomping its feet mentality to try and get what it wants which is more services without a tax increase—think screaming children in a candy store.
Hypothetically, if the plan did move forward, then real questions have to be answered rather than working off assumptions and hypothetical’s.
In other words, what contingencies are in place?
- What occurs if one or multiple agencies reject the idea of re-allocation. Where does the difference of funding come from?
- What occurs if an agency gives up funding in year 1, 2 and 3, but year 4 decides to stop?
- What if property tax levels flat line or decrease?
- What are cities, the counties and other entities willing to give up since the plan is freezing budgets in a particular place in time?
Ultimately, the ECV plan is nothing more than a distraction and a platform for a group of individuals who want services without paying for them. The public should realize the plan is illegal, unattainable, and not workable.
Bottom line, it should have been rejected and abandoned long ago. The District failed the public by not engaging in this plan early on and showcasing its shortcomings. The District did, however, do next to nothing while the City of Brentwood, with the assistance of Oakley, tried to solve a District problem that was not even their responsibility.
Instead, what should have happened was ECCFPD board work with Assemblyman Jim Frazier and Senator Steve Glazer on a solution to adjust the reallocation portion within Proposition 13—this is where allocation can actually happen—in Sacramento, not at the County level as ECV suggests.
If neither Assemblyman Frazier or Senator Glazer are willing to hold a dialogue or offer real help, then it should have been communicated by the District to the public.
If that was the case, then it’s time to take steps to find out what it would take for the county to “take back” the ECCFPD through consolidation. This could mean a revenue enhancement to fund six-stations with the caveat the District is then folded into CONFIRE.
If CONFIRE rejects the idea then the fire board should consider steps towards dissolving the fire district completely—thus freeing up the City of Brentwood with the opportunity to create their own fire district or potentially partner with the City of Oakley.
The problem with the ECCFPD has been going on since 2002, its time to stop talking about fixing fire service in East Contra Costa County and actually take realistic steps towards a solution instead of wasting another year spinning our wheels which will result in a fourth failed tax while more structures burn and people die.
At least with an elected board coming soon, Directors will soon become accountable to the public for inactivity and the persistent kicking the can down the road.