With the results of scientific polling highlighting a $98 parcel tax will likely fail in June, a local firefighter union is now encouraging the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board to stop wasting time on a potential tax and work towards other solutions.
Vince Wells, President, Local 1230 Contra Costa Professional Firefighters, made his unions position known Monday that the ECCFPD Fire Board should discontinue their efforts on a June Parcel Tax and work towards another solution.
He encouraged the Board to exhaust all efforts on a consolidation with Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (CONFIRE).
“It’s not productive to be discussing a parcel tax when it won’t pass,” said Wells.
He explained how the poll that Local 1230 paid for was done with scientific data on expected voter turnout as opposed to the Districts mail out where they will send it to everyone. Wells questioned how accurate the data will be when the results are finalized.
“There is no way of knowing what the sample will be because there is no scientific factor involved. It’s a waste of time and they should start working with Board of Supervisors and working amongst themselves to begin working on consolidation,” said Wells. “They should be working calculators, property tax, revenue and see what we can do to blend the two departments. That is a best use of time”
He says that if consolidation is not going to be the next step, then they need to go to LAFCO and do their best to get other leaders involved because the District is going to have a revenue and service problem. He noted maybe they can get money from cities, the county to close the gap via LAFCO, but that requires coordination.
“To sit back and debate the tax is a complete waste of time,” said Wells.
Wells called the potential for consolidation as a win-win for both districts stating that the Districts already are playing like one fire department on the ground level.
Wells explained that both districts already provide service to each others community as if it were the same district; the difference is the chiefs, administration, funding sources, and budgets.
When calls are dispatched, they send the closest engines.
“If there is a fire in East Contra Costa County, 5-engines are sent. Of those 5-engines sent to a fire, 9 out of 10 times one is a CONIFRE engine as part of the response,” explained Wells. “At the ground level, we are already playing like one fire department while at the administrative level it’s separate. There is no special call; it’s automatically the closest unit.”
He further said consolidation would be about ensuring East County as a whole would have more resources available which helps everyone.
With the District going down to three stations by November, Wells explained how consolidation could actually ensure four stations remain in East County. He suggests the District can make a few more changes to ensure four-stations could remain open.
“Back when the District was eight stations, it was originally a problem when it came to consolidation, but now they are down to three stations. They can probably get four stations out of East County if East County adjusts their finances,” said Wells.
He suggests that four stations are better than three stations in terms of service provided.
“All it would be is adding Discovery Bay, Brentwood, and Oakley stations to CONFIRE. The other side is CONFIRE is short firefighters. CONIFIRE could absorb them to help their staffing shortages which would keep nine extra firefighters from not getting laid off,” explained Wells.
He says it’s a better deal for both Districts because they are already on the same team; however, it’s no longer a situation where three stations respond and then ask for CONFIRE to help.
Wells stated that ECCFPD firefighters and those hired from the two-year FEMA Grant could be hired by CONFIRE at a lower salary (40% less). He explained that through an agreement of consolidation, they could eventually be brought up to CONFIRE salary within 3-5 years.
“It’s a great savings for the county who has to hire firefighters anyway, but it allows District not to deal with financial increase at one-time,” explained Wells. “We can negotiate a break-even point that is agreed upon for all parties.”
He said normally the union is the holdup on these types of deals, but this is a special situation.
When asked if consolidation could occur by the time ECCFPD is scheduled to shutter station, he was optimistic and responded that it may not be completed, but mutual agreements could be put in place to keep stations open noting that the details can get complex.
One issue that will be a potential holdup is that CONFIRE currently collects 13 cents vs. ECCFPD collecting 6 cents which means some pay higher taxes and it could mean subsidized fire service.
Wells argues that if people want to make that argument, they should start on their own street where they live.
“Someone who bought a home in 1978 is paying less in taxes than someone who bought a home in 2010. You pay different rates but you get the same fire and police services, schools, etc.,” explained Wells.
Wells stated he has had preliminary conversations with CONFIRE Chief Jeff Carman and ECCFPD Chief Hugh Henderson but nothing in depth.
He has had similar conversation with members of the County Board of Supervisors but noted it’s more conceptual at this point in time and there are some real challenges ahead to make it work.
“The game now is working on consolidation and not a parcel tax,” said Wells. “We recommend consolidation, if ECCFPD’s Board have other options and ideas, we need to get to those discussions as opposed to putting on a tax that we know won’t work.”