The Contra Costa Times can claim it wants to be fair and balanced all it wants, but I requested information last week and received confirmation of my suspicion that the Times Editorial Board is making decisions before it already has the information in hand.
More importantly, the Times is ignoring and withholding information from its readers it has been given by request from CONFIRE. Ultimately, this is not a fact finding mission because the facts are not being provided, it’s a witch hunt by emotional appeal against Local 1230 and the Board of Supervisors.
It’s stunning to me that the Contra Costa Times Editorial Board wants to continue picking on firefighters and change the message from fire services and it’s operational budget discussion to a be about pensions—news to the Times, pensions are not on the ballot and any meaningful pension reform it claims it wants, won’t have an effect for decades.
Below, you will see three things of great importance.
- Daniel Borensteins email to Chief Louder with his multiple requests (AKA Demands) for information
- Chief Louders response to Borenstein
- I go through the Times editorial and show how wrong it is
At the conclusion of this post, you will see for yourself, that the Times already had its mind made up while attempting to force Chief Louder to jump through hoops in the process. You will see the Times is taking a page out of CoCo Tax with their blanket statements and accusations without providing any proof to mislead voters. You will also see that the Times failed to do its job, while attempting to tell others how to do theirs!
As I mention many times, what in the world is the benchmark for “meaningful pension reform”? I believe this to be code word for eliminating pensions and changing services models. This is nothing more than the Times (Borenstein) picking on firefighters and telling them how to do their job, which is something he is not qualified to do.
As I mentioned a few days ago, the Contra Costa Times made an official endorsement against the proposed $75 parcel tax that will ultimately reduce fire services that CONFIRE provides by closing 1/3 of the current fire stations. As I wrote a few days ago, Dan Borenstein did not share with its readers the entire story and ignored key information in their editorial that Chief Louder provided to them. Note the “tone” of the letter!
From: Borenstein, Daniel
Sent: Wednesday, August 01, 2012 11:29 AM
Cc: Borenstein, Daniel; [email protected]
Subject: Ballot measure endorsement — information needed by Friday morning
I want to let you know that we will be making an endorsement decision on the ballot measure very quickly. The reason for this is that the list of candidate races is huge, so we want to get key ballot measures we know about done before candidate filing closes next week. Also, on this one, there is much information out there and we have already indicated in a past editorial the criteria we will use to evaluate this.
In our June editorial, we said: ³Going forward, we expect the district to present objective information about the proposed tax, current and long-range district budget projections, the specific dollar amounts of personnel costs, the anticipated rise in the cost of retirement benefits, and creative alternatives to the tax-increase, not just scare tactics. In these financially difficult times, it’s also essential that government leaders examine whether services can be better delivered in new and different ways.²
We have seen your five-year budget projections. They raise numerous issues. Specifically, would you please address:
- Retirement costs. Your numbers show that retirement costs in 17/18 will represent roughly 32 percent of total expenditures. Please explain what steps are being taken to control this. Be specific as to the proposals being considered and the dollars amounts associated with any savings.
- Delivering services in new and different ways. Please provide explanations of what alternatives you have considered and provide any reviews or analyses of these alternatives that have been produced during the past three years within your department or by an outside consultant. Please be sure to address the issue of paramedic service, including any review or analyses. (Consider this a public records act request on this bullet point.)
- Workout plan: The tax on the ballot would be for seven years. Your budget forecast only covers five years. Please provide forecasts that not only cover the entire seven-year period, but also show how the district will function after the tax expires. In other words, we would like to see a workout plan that ensures this is not essentially a permanent tax.
- Any other information you would like us to consider.
Please provide me the information by Friday morning. Given that this ballot measure has been discussed for months (years?) now, and given that we signaled in June the information we would be seeking, I would hope this information is readily available.
I would appreciate if you would please immediately acknowledge receipt of this email.
Keep in mind, Borenstein demanded his laundry list be submitted to within 72-hours as if the Chief has nothing better to do. Chief Louder did respond. By sending the email, read it closely as its not a request for information, its simply a request for information that will back up Borensteins opinion. The way he is demanding information is arrogant, degrading, and clearly has his mind made up before he received any information. Below is the response to Borenstein from Chief Louder.
Again, note the obvious difference in tone between Borensteins “demand letter” and the Chiefs reply letter.
Per your request and our conversation earlier this week, attached is our updated 10-year financial projections and information on controlling retirement costs.
I’ll be forwarding you the information on alternative service delivery models shortly.
After you have had a chance to review the documents, I’d like to speak with you to determine if you have any questions or need additional information.
As I noted before, we are working to address the current operating costs for the District as well as the structural components. We cannot solve all of the issues in a compressed time period, but we are making substantive and incremental progress. It is important that we remember the significant consequences to public safety if this measure fails. We should not sacrifice good for perfect when the stakes are so high.
Based off this exchange and information provided, the CC Times Editorial Board (really just Dan Borenstein and Dan Hatfield) wrote the following “opinion”. Due to the recklessness of this editorial, we must dissect what was written because the Times has a political agenda and is not interested in providing facts under the byline “Times Editorial Staff”.
Contra Costa Times editorial: District voters should reject false choice offered in fire tax
Residents of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District are being offered a false choice: Approve a $75-a-year parcel tax on the Nov. 6 ballot or face the shutdown of nearly one-third of the district’s stations.
Burks Comment: Why is it a false choice? It’s reality and all one has to do is look at East County where half its stations were closed. The only thing false about that line is the Times did not mention the reduced level of funding due to property tax revenue being decreased.
It’s political blackmail. And it ignores potential savings that could have, and still could be, attained if fire district officials make meaningful pension changes and seriously examine ways to restructure, especially when it comes to providing emergency medical services.
Burks Comment: Pay attention to what the Times is saying because its dangerous–and journalist blackmail. Nowhere in this article does it state what meaningful pension reform is nor does it use any facts or figures. It’s a blanket statement and code word for “elimination of pensions”. It also throws in the restructuring of services which is also code word for no longer responding to medical calls. I’ve hit on this many times and most recently you can read the The Relationship of First Response to EMS from the Contra Costa Health Services Emergency Medical Service Agency (EMS). Essentially, this is an open ended statement with no bench mark to allow for a discussion to even begin because they do not offer facts or figures.
The tax measure affects property owners in much of Central County as well as Antioch, Pittsburg and San Pablo. It has been under discussion for at least two years.
The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, which runs the district, should have made every effort to find savings before going to voters. It didn’t.
Burks Comment: Mr. Borensetein, your contact buddy Kris Hunt of CoCo Tax provided a document at the last board meeting. Director Gioia reviewed Ms. Hunt’s document on scene to state that her numbers proved the Board of Supervisors have been reducing spending and making cuts. The statement about going to the Board of Supervisors is a fib because they have been dealing with this issue since 2002. Local 1230 was guaranteed a total of four pay raises at 2.25 % which they agreed to bypass two of those four pay raises. The Times lied big time with this smear of the Board of Supervisors.
There has been no serious discussion of options. Should firefighters continue delivering emergency medical services? If so, should they continue to receive extra pay for that, or should it be part of their basic salary? Should at least some of the county’s 10 financially strapped fire districts be merged to save on administrative costs?
Burks Comments: Another fib or the Contra Costa Times has been asleep at the wheel, you pick! We can pull up via the Times archives their many articles proving this statement false. There have been many discussions and the Board of Supervisors has the hours of video to prove these types of discussions have occurred. Simply put this is a temporary tax to bridge the loss of property taxes which fund fire services, not an opportunity for Mr. Borenstein to reinvent emergency service delivery.
More to the point, why does Mr. Borenstein get to decide what is considered a “serious discussion of options?” Why can’t I decide? Why can’t you decide? How come he gets to decide (while using a phony byline as a paper) as to what is considered serious or not. Ultimately, this is his opinion and only his which does not make it true. Want proof, go to the video or did he forget that those exist? Again, he never does state what would classify as to what serious discussions of options are. It’s open to interpretation.
A reasonable person would have thought Mr. Borenstein would at least attend a Fire Board meeting with all his concerns he apparently has while maybe asking a question or two. From what I have observed, he hasn’t! Instead, he is chosing to hide his personal opinion and agenda behind the masthead of the Contra Costa Times.
Should fire inspectors continue to receive pensions at rates that were intended for people who put their lives on the lines? Should current employees be asked to agree to reduce pension accruals for their future working years? Should newly hired employees continue to be promised the same sort of pensions that are helping drive this current financial crisis?
Burks Comment: Okay fine, I’ll give Borenstein this one on the fire inspectors, but this is an easy fix and should be fixed. But moving onto his next line, if Mr. Borenstein would watch the last couple of fire board meetings, his questions were addressed by Supervisors Piepho, Gioia and Mitchoff. This is simply a case of Mr. Borenstein not doing his research and being lazy. They already agreed to a second tier, however, it’s stuck in the legislator which is needed to move forward with it.
Moving it forward prematurely would be illegal, violate labor law, and would get the county sued. To make this simple for Mr. Borenstein, this illegal act which he recommends would cost the taxpayers dearly!
There has been no serious evaluation of alternatives. Instead, voters are told to either pay more or watch homes burn.
Burks Comment: Again, there is no mention of alternatives and why does he get to consider something serious or not? But he is correct, voters do get to decide to pay more or watch homes burn–that is what the parcel tax is, not a discussion for other items that he is bringing up in this editorial.
It has been stated several times-this is a tax to fund operations. The voters are not voting on pension reform-they are voting on the operational level that the fire department will fulfill. A no vote means 7-10 fire stations (approximately1/3) will be closed-insurance rates will rise, emergency response times will increase, and lives will be UNNECESSARILY be put at risk.
They’re told the district plans to implement serious pension reform for new hires. In fact, the new pension formulas under discussion are just slightly less generous than the current ones and far more costly than the ones in effect a decade ago.
Burks Comment: Again, he mentions “serious pension reform” but fails to state what this is. No facts or figures. How is a reader to know what current employees get compared to the new hires if he fails to show it? This is a dirty trick by the Times because a decade ago the National Price of gasoline was near $2.00 per gallon–meaning costs have gone up!
Yes Mr. Borenstein, the cost of living and the cost of doing business has gone up, while in turn taxes which fund Con Fire have gone DOWN.
To be sure, the district’s finances are teetering on a cliff. Even if voters approve the new tax, the district’s budget projections show expenditures exceeding revenues until fiscal year 2022-23. To balance the books, the district plans to continue depleting reserves that should have gone to pay down the district’s pension debt.
Burks Comment: What number is Borenstein claiming has the district teetering on a cliff? The Times is talking about projections 10-years from now. Projections do not mean a thing. We don’t know what laws will be in place 10 years from now, we don’t know where the economy will be. If projections meant something, people wouldn’t have lost money during the economic crash! His assumption that using reserves to pay for pensions is incorrect because that would have meant a loss in service.
Once again, Mr. Borenstein is talking finance, and making economic predictions which changes from year to year. I find this way beyond the scope of a newspaper columnist. I think readers would be shocked to know just who is behind the curtain of the Contra Costa Times editorial board. They are not exactly economic scholars. The level of research that some of these ‘journalists’ provide to back up their “opinions” is dismal at best.
But where do those expenditures go? For every dollar spent on salaries (excluding overtime), the district currently spends 88 cents on pension and retiree health care costs. By fiscal year 2017-18, the district will be spending substantially more on retirement costs than salaries.
The board and Chief Daryl Louder have had plenty of time to prepare for this, to negotiate meaningful pension changes and seriously examine new ways to deliver services more cost-effectively. They have done neither.
Burks Comment: Once again, what is meaningful pension changes? What is the bench mark that will satisfy Borenstein and the Contra Costa Times? As I mentioned Friday, Chief Louder provided a document showing changes and what has transpired in order to help control retirement costs, the Times just chose to ignore that document as if it didn’t exist. Its reckless for a paper to claim that the District has not made changes because they have–there is a document with five bullets proving they did something!
We recognize that residents might need to pay more. But, especially in these tough economic times, that should be the last line of defense. We hear supervisors saying they will make more changes in the future. That should come first.
Burks Comment: What is this “might” stuff, its fact people need to pay more because there is a shortfall thanks to people’s property taxes being reduced for three years straight. Supervisor Mitchoff stated it beautifully a few weeks back by stating if she had to pay $75 back because she received a $1,000 in a property tax reduction, she would be okay with it. I hope voters feel the same way. $75 is cheap compared to the alternative. The Times is essentially making the”what came first argument, “the chicken or the egg?”
As the Contra Costa Grand Jury said, “Simply asking the taxpayers for more money to fund old service models and support burdensome labor agreements is not the answer.” That’s why we urge voters to reject the parcel tax.
Burks Comment: By stating the Grand Jury report, the editorial lost all credibility because changing the service model is simply off the table based on the County EMS plan. More importantly this was a cherry picked line out of a recommendation by the Grand Jury.
The line above it states, “Fire protection and emergency response service providers (fire agencies) in Contra Costa County are under pressure to align their reduced revenue basis, severely depleted by lower property taxes, with the cost required to operate at a level consistent with citizen expectations—meaning the Grand Jury recognizes the reduction in funds that are tied to property taxes!
This same Grand Jury report states they recognize Contra Costa County Fire has had to reduce salaries for all current firefighters by 10%–oops, I guess Borenstein left that one out as well. Once again we have a text book example of Borenstein and the other member of the Editorial Board cherry picking information to fit their agenda.
Taking this Grand Jury nonsense a step further it is important to know who makes up the Grand Jury and the level (or lack of) expertise that exists within the Grand Jury. For the most part, agencies that are reviewed by the Grand Jury disagree with their findings. While it is admirable that citizens “volunteer” to serve on Grand Juries, they are by no means experts about the issues they report on.
My final thoughts on this topic are straight forward.
This is a case of the Contra Costa Times (mostly Dan Borenstein) trying to tell firefighters how to do their job and how to restructure when he is watching from afar and sitting behind a desk. It’s stunning to me that Borenstein wants to pick on firefighters and tell them how to do their job when he is doing a poor job himself by failing to provide facts and figures to back up his opinions. Maybe it’s time we discuss how he is providing service to his readers and talk about reducing his salary and see how he likes it.
After all, it is no secret in Contra Costa that Borenstein has a chip on his shoulder regarding public safety. It would be nice if he would report the news, rather than try to make it up as he pleases.
The Times Editorial Board are frauds and it’s time the readers hold them accountable and begin cancelling their subscriptions in response to this shotty yellow journalism they are providing to what little readers they have left.
Don’t take my word for it as I encourage you to visit “Boycott the Times” on Facebook. Apparently Mr. Borenstein is creating quite a legacy for himself.
Photo was a screen shot taken from the Contra Costa Times website