On Monday, Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina will present a Task Force recommendation on a potential plan to move the cash strapped East Contra Costa Fire Protection District from its current state of 3-stations to a 9-station model which includes 81 fire personnel.
The plan is neither simple, nor cheap and upon first review there is some sticker shock; however it aims to finally solves a decade long problem of how to appropriately fund the fire district before the District dissolves.
Should the District dissolve, the cities of Brentwood and Oakley would be required by state law to provide fire service, a bill neither city manager wants to pay. Unincorporated Contra Costa is not required to provide fire service.
For example, should the ECCFPD dissolve, according to the recent draft MSR, the City of Brentwood would have to come up with $11 million annually for fire services. To bridge the gap, it’s estimated each household in Brentwood would be forced to pay a $315 annual tax. In Oakley, it would have to come up with nearly $7 million.
Being tabbed as the “end all” solution, the Task Force proposal would raise an estimated $16 million annually in new funds through a Utility Users Tax (UUT) on cable, electricity and cell phone. This means a percentage of each bill will be taxed and then applied to public safety. The UUT only needs a 50% + 1 approval to pass.
According to Gus Vina, he does not need the fire board’s approval to push this plan forward, the City of Brentwood, City of Oakley and the County can agree to place it on the ballot. It would also mean each area would get a chance to approve the measure.
If Brentwood approves the plan, they would now have funds for four-stations. If Oakley approves it, they would get three stations. If the unincorporated areas of the county approve it, they get have two-stations in Discovery Bay.
Note – the county portion would apply to all unincorporated Contra Costa with funds going specific into their local fire departments.
In total, the UUT would ensure that East Contra Costa Fire would meet the recommendations of Citygate and the latest draft MSR suggesting a 9-10 station fire district model is needed for not only today’s population, but anticipated future growth.
According to Vina, Monday’s presentation is informational with no action required by the fire board.
“The District is very limited in what they can tax; they do not have the authority as a special district. So we had to find a different way to do that. So what we have come up with is Brentwood, Oakley, and the County would each have a measure for UUT,” explained Vina. “Already a couple times, Brentwood has been dragged down because other communities have said no. This is a public safety measure with a list of projects and priorities to fund. It takes care of East County and provides the county with additional money. The money is being used to implement the Master Plan.”
Vina explained what happens if one area approves its UUT and another does not.
“Hypothetically, if Brentwood passes a UUT and no one else does, Brentwood would have the resources to have a four-station model. My council is able to say to its residents we have the resources to provide you with a four-minute response time to take care of you,” explained Vina. “The stations would still be under East Contra Costa Fire and respond to other parts of the District because you can’t build a wall around Brentwood. If you’re in the system, they respond.”
Vina highlighted that if Brentwood and Oakley approve the UUT and the county does not; then their times will not increase because they do not have the stations available near them. Engines would still be coming from Brentwood or Oakley. With a Brentwood and Oakley approval, the District becomes 8-stations.
“There would be more engines in the system, but travel time doesn’t change. This gets us the resource required to ensure the District is sufficient for the population and anticipated growth,” said Vina.
Vina noted the plan by the Task Force solution solves the problem once and for all because it doesn’t limit the District to just five-stations as proposed through a reallocation plan by the East County Voters for Equal Protection (ECV).
He explained that the plan being proposed by Hal Bray, Bryan Scott and a modified plan by Oakley Councilman and County Supervisor Candidate Doug Hardcastle only continues to kick the can down the road because it’s a band aid and does not fix the problem. He called their plan unfair to Contra Costa County Fire (CONFIRE) taxpayers because it ensures ECCFPD to be supplemented through CONFIRE with engines continuing to respond to ECCFPD calls creating longer response times.
Vina says under the MOU of a UUT agreement, there will be strict language to ensure community protection on station openings based on where the voters approved the UUT.
“The District itself could not supplant stations and could not take UUT money and apply it to another community to open a station. Each jurisdiction has to live with its decision meaning we can’t take Brentwood money if approved and Oakley does not pass and use Brentwood money to open a station in Oakley,” explained Vina.
Vina noted that in terms of cost, they are working on polling to be performed later this month to determine just what percentage will be used—either a 3%, 7% or 10% tax. He also noted it’s impossible to determine what someone will actually pay because everyone has a different service plan for cell phones and cable while no one household uses the same amount of gas or electric.
Vina did say that if you have a $100 phone bill and the UUT is 10%, it would cost you $10 a month to fire service. If you’re a family of five and your phone bill is $500, then the UUT is $50 per month.
He noted that if the polling is bad, they will not move forward but says the public will understand the actual cost as it applies to them when they have the formula decided.
“I have always encouraged honesty and if 15% of the people support this, we are not going to go forward, that is ridiculous. If we are near 50%, we are off and running to give this a chance,” said Vina.
He pointed out that in the past; it’s always been a financial decision that ruled the conversation versus actually finding a solution. He says it’s time to change the conversation.
“In the past, it was always about keeping it under $100 so it will pass because it was all financial. But it never attempted to solve the problem. So let’s flip and change the conversation to level of service and risk,” explained Vina. “If as a voter you accept 3-stations and the risk. Tell me. I disagree with the ECV and not asking the people, you should always ask the people. If they turn you down, they turn you down.”
Vina noted that according to their polling on Peak Democracy, although 46% wanted a form of reallocation as the solution, he says 53% wanted some sort of tax to help fund the District and he believes this plan will be best for everyone because the UUT is all relevant to everyone because it’s based on usage levels.
“53% of the public said they would support a tax,” said Vina. “If everybody supports, it solves the fire district going forward and we will grow into 9-stations. With more people coming in, we are covered. We set out to fix this once and for all.”
Vina further was critical of those suggesting unattainable plans and creating greater public confusion. He says all that does is kick the can down the road as ECV is suggesting. He contends the public is tired of band aids and the kicking of the can down the road and instead finally are seeking a solution.
“You get to a point where service like fire is critical and doesn’t have the money. Period! You can’t have a no new tax or no tax agenda and expect government services of any kind. If that is truly how you feel, you’re not going to have any parks. Who is going to fix your streets? Who is going to patrol neighborhoods? Of course you have to have taxes, that is how it works,” says Vina. “Do we have to be responsible and accountable to that money, of course we do. We have to be mindful of the taxpayer, but that is where government has gone bad with the City of Bell, City of Stockton, and City of Vallejo. Those examples don’t help so you lose the trust of the public and it’s hard to gain the trust back.”
Vina stated that by reaching out to the public, they have opened up the doors to the public for feedback and conversation on a fire solution.
“We are aiming to fix the problem once and for all so every election people do not have to hear about a fire fix and tax again. We think we have found a solution that the public could support,” said Vina. “I want people to understand the 9-station model and what it does for them.”
If You Go:
Monday June 6, 2016
Special Meeting Time – 5:30 pm
Oakley City Hall at 3231 Main St, Oakley