Home Contra Costa County Op-Ed by Assemblymember Jim Frazier: “Five-Alarm Problem”

Op-Ed by Assemblymember Jim Frazier: “Five-Alarm Problem”

by ECT

Since East Contra Costa Fire Protection District directors voted to lay off staff and close two more stations, I have heard from residents worried that three stations and 27 firefighters aren’t enough to cover more than 100,000 people in a 249-square-mile area. I agree with them! I’ve been worried about this very thing since the district was turned over to local control in 2010 and I was appointed to the first board to represent the interests of my hometown, Oakley.

In 2010, the district had eight stations, 53 firefighters and a gaping hole in its budget caused by a downturn in the real estate market. By the time the market bottomed out, property values had dropped by 40 percent, and tax revenues had vaporized accordingly. Frankly, the recession put the final nail in the coffin of the fire district.

The fire district is funded entirely by property taxes, per 1978 passage of Proposition 13. In 1978 the region was mostly rural and fire service was mostly provided by volunteers. Officials at the time had to decide what share of property taxes fire districts needed to maintain their operations. They set the rate for rural districts at 5 percent. Neighboring urban fire districts were given larger shares.

File Photo: Jim Frazier visits with Robert Ruddick the day Bethel Island Station closed in July 2012.

File Photo: Jim Frazier visits with fire captain Robert Ruddick the day Bethel Island and Knightsen Fire Stations closed in July 2012.

This is why people who live in the East Contra Costa Fire District pay the same property taxes as their neighbors but receive less service. In Oakley, Bethel Island, Brentwood, Byron, Discovery Bay and Knightsen, only 5 percent of property tax revenue goes toward fire protection. Fire districts covering Antioch, Pittsburg, Concord and Walnut Creek receive 13 percent to 16 percent of the revenue collected.

How do we go about changing that distribution of property tax? Only by changing Proposition 13, and there is very little political will to make that change. I would consider legislation regarding the distribution of property tax if each city, school and special district in Contra Costa County agreed to a redistribution of revenue. Perhaps the ad hoc Fire & Medical Services Task Force, the City and County leaders who are meeting to discuss this issue would be willing to discuss such an option?

The only thing that kept us afloat this long has been the FEMA grants that we applied for. There aren’t any more FEMA grants to be had. Even if there were, temporary grant funding is no way to run a permanent department. Faced with falling revenue and disappearing reserves, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District board has done what every family does when faced with a similar crisis: It cut expenses and looked for other sources of income by closing fire stations, letting employees go, reducing salaries and insisting that employees pay a larger share of their benefit costs.

The Fire Board also asked taxpayers, twice, to vote to provide another source of revenue. Both times, voters turned down ballot requests to charge themselves about $8 more a month for fire service. Without additional revenue, and no more federal money to prop it up, the fire district board had no choice but to close more stations and lay off more firefighters.

The district relies on mutual aid responses from surrounding fire departments to provide basic service. But how much longer will our neighbors bail us out when our district can’t reciprocate?
And unlike other urban fire departments, the East Contra Costa district never did generate enough revenue to add paramedics to its services. Basic emergency medical aid is all it provides. That’s troublesome, considering our area’s aging population.

As a homeowner, I am as worried as every other district resident that my insurance rates are going to skyrocket and, worse, that my property won’t be adequately protected if a fire sweeps through. As a parent whose daughter’s life was saved by firefighter-paramedics, I am concerned that advanced life-saving techniques aren’t routinely available to me or my neighbors.

The hard truth is that fire districts are funded by local assessment with residents who use the services paying the fee. Right now, the assessment does not cover the needs. The fire district is currently living within its means and we are getting exactly what we’re paying for. The question remains: Is it enough?

To contact Assemblymember Jim Frazier, please call his District Office at (925) 513-0411, send letters to 150 City Park Way, Brentwood 94513-1164, or visit his website at http://www.asmdc.org/members/a11.

You may also like


Jo Sep 2, 2015 - 7:27 am

WTF Frazier, you only want to do something if everyone else agrees to it? You are so supposed to lead from the front, not from the back. Maybe you and Supervisor Piepho need to sit down together and come up with the solution for everyone else to follow. Now the other way around. If this Board is now to lead to the finish line, we are all doomed.

Not what I expected from Jim Frazier, maybe its time to look at someone new to be our assemblyperson.

Jim Simmons 42 Sep 2, 2015 - 7:30 am

I doubt anyone will give up their money. Frazier knows this and it appears to me to be throwing this issue back on the Board and local elected officials to fix the problem and do the hard work. Typical politician move.

Reality Check Sep 2, 2015 - 7:34 am

Good, this is a reality check of the fire board to stop asking for more money and take it from other districts and do a proper allocation of our tax revenue. Hey fire board, get off your butts and get to work.

JS Sep 2, 2015 - 9:10 am

Frazier should lead by introducing a bill to allow reallocation of prop 13 tax distribution.

Buy a Clue Sep 2, 2015 - 9:13 am

You left out the second part of that statement.

“……..so he can be taken out in the very next election by the Howard Jarvis people.”

Clearly you don’t understand the political realities of Sacramento.

Jules Sep 2, 2015 - 9:12 am

Is there an option to change the fire district from rural to urban to match the existing reality so that a larger portion of the budget can be allocated to the fire district?

Buy a Clue Sep 2, 2015 - 10:30 am

The fire department is not part of a budget. It receives an apportionment of property tax revenue based on Prop 13 / AB 8 formulas.

The point of the article is that it has to be changed in Sacramento. Since AB 8 is not specific to Contra Costa County or this Fire District, you would be changing a law that affects the entire state.

Good luck with that.

A massive heavy lift that requires a huge amount of public and political momentum that simply does not exist today. It will take years, if not decades to generate that.

The average voter is good at writing a headline with almost no understanding or care for the political reality or difficulty of the effort. While you and I want a rewrite of the law, there are probably a few million in the state who don’t want us going anywhere near Prop 13. Mostly due to irrational fear they will lose on the resulting change.

That’s what you’re pushing against. When you start to understand that you start to realize the near term solution is not going to be found there. Long term, yeah. But can you wait 10-20 years for them to fix that while you have substandard fire protection?

Frank Spinelli Sep 2, 2015 - 2:10 pm

It’s time for the State Legislature to stop the Governors wasteful spending on his train and tunnels and direct it to where it is needed today. His dreams of tomorrow can wait!

FF Supporter Sep 2, 2015 - 7:27 pm

Nice politicians piece Frazier. We need your leadership not your following. Everything in this article has been beat up a couple dozens times. There is nothing in this article that is new or shows leadership on Mr. Frazier’s part. Like a previous comment, Mr. Frazier make a name for yourself and sponsor legislation that fixes situations such as this to reevaluate the tax distribution. Yes you can if you try.

not a fan Sep 2, 2015 - 10:49 pm

Most ridiculous statement I have ever read.

Especially this passage;

“I would consider legislation regarding the distribution of property tax if each city, school and special district in Contra Costa County agreed to a redistribution of revenue. Perhaps the ad hoc Fire & Medical Services Task Force, the City and County leaders who are meeting to discuss this issue would be willing to discuss such an option?”

Firesail Sep 2, 2015 - 10:51 pm

If the fire district is underfunded in the formula, it would seem that the other services are proportionately well funded or even over-funded in comparison to other jurisdictions.

Inside Outside Sep 3, 2015 - 9:28 am

Nope. Just more of them to fund (especially school districts). Take 2 minutes and unlock your property tax bill with your unique 5 digit TRA>Tax Rate Area. The number can be found on your bill. In contrast to what Frazier stated, the amount to which east county residents contribute to the district varies considerably between communities such as Brentwood, Bethel Island and even Discovery Bay.

It’s not 5 percent across the board.

JS Sep 3, 2015 - 8:52 am

Mr Frazier lead from the front not the rear. Introducing legislation that allows local areas to vote a reallocation. No voters would be against it because it does not raise taxes and allows local authorities to get voter approval for redistribution. Jarvis people should encourage it because again it does not raise taxes.

Inside Outside Sep 3, 2015 - 9:48 am

JS, it doesn’t work that way. The legislature doesn’t allow it. Local voters do not set apportionment rates. Your tax dollars is divided amongst many different agencies which is set by state law. To fund one you would have to rob another. It’s even more complicated than that, because there are dozens within each city. Once you start down that path you would have more than one service provider or school district coming unglued.

“NO voters would be against it… The Jarvis people should encourage it because it does not raise taxes? Unless you know of any district agency that wants to give up a dime of revenue then you’d better think again.

The bottom line is you are getting what you pay for. If we want improved or increased service we have to pay for it just like everyone else does.

You don’t get to decide where your taxes go-you never have and never will. That’s why they are called taxes (you might want to look it up).

Clayton Resident Sep 3, 2015 - 10:24 am

@ Inside Outside, you brought up an inconsistency I’ve been trying to reconcile myself. I live in unincorporated Clayton, tax area 79047, and fall under the East Contra Costa Fire District. I pay just short of $10,000 per year in property taxes and my tax area shows that 24.3% of that goes to “East Co Co Fire”. It’s hard for me to figure how I’m not paying my fair share of taxes, considering my area receives very little in public services. We generally only hear from the County when they want to shake us down for more money. If there’s a problem, we’re on our own. The firefighters in this district don’t make as much as others in the area and I believe they are certainly short on resources, but it’s hard for me to look at my tax figures and place myself at blame for not paying enough. Of course, I also pay the SRA fire tax separately as well.

It seems there’s information being left out by public officials and it’s very difficult for the average tax payer to collect all the facts that paint the true picture. I also don’t remember the increased fire fee on the ballot being “only $8”. It seems he is picking and choosing the best figures for his view in this article. I can’t vote for, or support, measures and ballots being presented to me until I feel I’m being given a complete synopsis of the situation. If elected officials punt problems back to the community, at least give us all of the inside information you have access to. Can anyone more familiar with some of these issues provide any insight? I’d really like to understand the issue more completely, than a political article with cherry-picked figures.

David Villareal Sep 3, 2015 - 8:10 pm

$8.00/mo or $96.00/yr was the average that a homeowner would have had to pay for the last benefit assessment that failed so he was correct.

S.O. Sep 3, 2015 - 7:50 pm

InsideOut is trying to protect the local politicians with his rhetoric. These politicians know this situation is wrong and needs correction. I would guess InsideOut is connected to Frazier and Piepho. These are the two main politicians that need to fix the fire issue here. You are a prime example of paying more and getting less. Your tax in addition to another tax you pay for another fire service of which is housed in the same building is just another failure of our leaders not attending to this serious issue of equal taxation for equal service. They have asked you with your money three times to give more. This article is another example of a politician worried more about his special interest than the betterment and lives of his constituents and local fire fighters. This article has a huge amount of words like InsideOut but says nothing to fix the problem. The popularity of equal taxation proportionments out ways the need to pacify pay off lobbyists. A state bill introduction is the answer for all areas that are in similar circumstances. The politicians are more concerned with pay increases and double dipping perks than saving lives. This is why Trump will probably be President. The public is tired of not being listened to. Desaulnier is another example of this same ignorance by supporting the Iran nuke deal. Politicians need to get back to basics and work for the main stream public voter and not their lobbyists.

Comments are closed.