On Tuesday, the City of Oakley stated they would be willing to come to the table to assist the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District for a period of two-years as long as the fourth station remained in Knightsen.
The move came on the same night the Brentwood City Council decided to take no action on their own MOU which would have supplemented funding with the fire district on a downtown Brentwood station at a cost of $7.2 million over 3-years. The no action came after the local firefighters union opposed the measure.
Brentwood nearly approved the MOU after City Manager Gus Vina and councilmembers Steve Barr and Karen Rarey, along with ECCFPD Board Member Joe Young last month claimed both Oakley and the Board of Supervisors would not come to the table to fund a fourth fire station.
Since those claims, last week the Board of Supervisors agreed to help fund Knightsen and Tuesday, the Oakley City Council followed the county’s direction.
On Tuesday night, City Manager Bryan Montgomery explained to the council that he did speak with the fire chief and they do have funding available to keep the operations going longer in Knigthsen past June 30, but not for a long period of time.
“The urgency that has been discussed that the station is going to close and the urgency which the City of Brenetwood and the Fire District have had discussions is real, the fact that the money is there to operate has become a secondary fact that has not been very relevant in the political discussions however true it may be,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery went over financials and highlighted how the County agreed to a period of two-year of funding contingent on the station being located in Knigthsen and the City of Oakley participating.
Councilman Kevin Romick asked about the options the Council had in terms of where the funding would come from so it would not come from only the General Fund.
“My concern is if we do not give them alternative come Monday, a bird in a hand is going to be a whole lot palatable than Oakley still wondering what they are going to do and the county only giving them two-years and they will vote to move the station to Brentwood,” said Romick.
Montgomery stated that for Oakley to participate, the only place it made sense to take revenue from was the General Fund Transfer from roadway maintenance which they are already behind on. Under this scenario, Montgomery highlighted the city would reduce its roadway maintenance costs between $290,000 to $630,000 depending on the amount.
“For a couple of years that would be the most readily available funds to go to, just reducing that general fund transfer for roadway maintenance and if you direct us it would be directed to the fire district,” explained Montgomery.
Montgomery also highlighted they could use the CFD funds from Summer Lakes—the only residents in the District who make a direct payment to the fire district through a CFD ($170,000 per year). He highlighted if this were part of Oakley’s payment, the City would then be responsible for paying $177,000 the first year and $114,000 in year two.
“This is a very short term fix, it has its drawbacks. In my mind it confuses the voters, I think Brentwood has already done that so that ship has sailed,” explained Montgomery. “This is not sustainable for the City of Oakley, it maybe for the City of Brentwood but we can’t continue to defer roadway maintenance or whatever other funding source you might direct for this purpose.”
Romick stated if they were to participate, he would want to use the CFD money and the fire district credit Oakley which is what Brentwood is doing.
“We are the only City who is taking our CFD Money and giving it directly to the fire department as opposed to Brentwood which is collecting them and then deciding what public safety issue they want to invest in from year to year,” said Romick. “If we were to participate, this would be the only way I would participate, for two-years and to ensure that station stays in Knightsen as opposed to just giving Brentwood that second station and making it for our residents in Summer Lakes and other residents in Knightsen and Bethel Island, the calls become wait times and intolerable.”
Montgomery agreed highlighting the fire department did a study and operationally it was determined that Knightsen was the best option for a fourth station.
Vice Mayor Randy Pope highlighted how Brentwood had been withholding its CFD Funding from the fire district and now dangling it out like a carrot on a stick.
“I don’t think it’s moral or ethical for Brentwood to do that and I wouldn’t advocate we do that,” said Pope.
He went on to explain the conditions put on by both the county and the funding from the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) while saying how operationally Knightsen was the best choice for first engine in and shortest time for the whole district.
“By moving that station, you impair that,” said Pope. “The northern side would have a longer response time than the rest of the District. So I believe if the fire district made that decision, they are not representing the entire district as they should. They are supposed to represent the District, not the cities they come from.”
Pope explained they were not only talking about the money that Oakley would throw in tonight, but it was more like $1 million when they factor in the County and BBID.
“If the County doesn’t go and BBID money is pulled, it would put the fire district in further financial hardship and I don’t know if Brentwood, who is daddy warbucks, is ready to pony up for the consequences of that in what they are asking for in those unintended consequences ,” stated Pope.
Pope continued to say how Brentwood could potentially control the District in the future and conditions needed to be put in place to protect the entire district.
“I see their argument that they want more fire engines for the high populations, I get that. What I also see is next year when we elect board representation that they are going to have more voters than we are than the rest of the district,” said Pope. “I’ve had conversations from representatives from the unincorporated and County and they are deathly afraid, they have serious concerns about losing representation and when they lose representation they will lose service. I see the potential of that happening as well. If we do decide to go in, there is a moral duty and safety of our citizens, if we do, that we don’t blindly give this money. That we set some expectations for the future of the District.”
Pope noted that currently, the fire district has put off creating voting wards (districts) until 2020 due to cost, but noted the election was in 2018.
“I don’t accept that, if we are going to put this money in, were paying Oakley tax payer deserves levels of service,” said Pope. “I would expect the district to make concrete steps to enacting a creation of those Wards and it’s implemented.”
Pope then questioned the financial discipline of some of the members of the fire board because they were projecting to give their employees 4% raises every year when they are only expecting to get a 2% increase in revenue
“I cannot in good conscious spend Oakley taxpayer dollars in that situation,” said Pope. “I believe that is irresponsible. The district, I believe, would have to fix that. Absent of that, I don’t believe the district is solvent and exercising their fiduciary responsibility in spending the taxpayer dollars.”
He accused the fire district of spending money like “drunken sailors” and that they should put conditions if they were to assist the fire district.
Mayor Sue Higgins asked Pope to clarify his conditions.
“I want the fire district to commit to creating wards (districts),” said Pope. “I don’t think they should increase their salary and benefits that exceed their revenues. Their projecting a 2% increase in revenue then they should not exceed a 2% increase in salary and benefits. To exceed that is financially irresponsible. You shouldn’t be projecting to spend more than you earn.”
Councilwoman Claire Alaura highlighted the District is their own entity and they should be accountable for their spending and how they move forward.
“That is not to say that I don’t feel like we should help. I sort of feel like with this new elected board that they may want to look at addressing the county because the county established these fire district as far as I understand. It may have worked out for the other counties but the fire district we have is not working out,” said Alaura. “I would hope the fire districts would go to the county for some reconsolidation or some idea that way because as they are functioning now it is not working and do not foresee how they can continue to work this way.”
Alaura called the “Brentwood Plan B” option selfish.
“Yes it would help their part of the fire district, according to the study and looking at it the Knightsen station is pertinent,” said Alaura. “The fire district needs to take into consideration the entire district, not those who have the most money.”
She recommended that Oakley only assist for a period of two-years.
“Oakley in the press has been burned to say that people here in Oakley, the council, the city, the staff didn’t want to help is totally untrue. I think for Brentwood to assume that because we were unable to jump on it as fast as they were, that we didn’t care. It’s completely false,” stated Alaura.
Romick stated that part of the conditions to be added was that the fire district come up with a plan before the elected board comes on board, giving them 18-months, while Oakley needed to get its council members off the board.
“We can’t force Brentwood to kick their council members off, but my preference is council members are not on the board anymore,” stated Romick. “I’d like to see Brentwood follow that same direction.”
Pope stated that while he wanted to keep the requirements simple, but he would like the fire board to create resolution that upon completion of the 2020 Census that they will move towards wards and districts, but noted an elected board before that could supersede that resolution.
“I would like to see them have that on record,” said Pope. “If some future board does make that decision, then they will be accountable to that and they will be accountable to the voters.”
Romick then added that at the May 1 meeting, the City of Oakley needed to request that if the funding proposal by Brentwood was short in its estimate, that Brentwood pays the difference as opposed to the fire district.
“In any account if the funding is short, Brentwood is short, that Brentwood makes whole any funding that is short to keep that fourth station open in Brentwood,” said Romick. “It can’t come from anywhere else; it has to come from Brentwood. So they can’t shut down Discovery Bay or Oakley to keep that second station open.”
Romick further highlighted they needed to show everyone that they were a willing to participant and willing to take money from the general funding in order to maintain the safety of residents.
Under the Oakley tentative proposal:
- Oakley would Use CFD Money & General Fund Money
- Fire Station in Knightsen for 2-years
- Fire Board approve a Resolution committing to 2020 Census and move district election to Wards (Districts)
- Long Term Planning – report to Oakley every quarter on status of Long-term planning and future of the District as part of accepting funding. Including financial updates. How to get to a 9-station fire district model options.
The final action by the Oakley City Council would come back by May 9 depending on the fire board’s May 1 decision on where they would move forward.
It’s unclear what action will now be taken now that Brentwood has agreed to come back to the table with both Contra Costa County and Oakley to work with the fire district on a plan to ensure a fourth fire station, to be located in Knightsen, will remain open for a period of 2-years.
The fire board also has two vacancies on it after Oakley announced its looking for replacement for Council Doug Hardcastle and Meghan Bell who declined re-appointment.
There still has been no discussion on whether or not the fire district would be required to change its name as required by the Board of Supervisors more than a year ago.