By Bryan Scott
Here’s something that should scare East County government agency managers: Losing 9.2% of their property tax funding.
That is one of many potential outcomes possible if a rational outsider, an uninvolved third party, were asked to adjust the East County property tax funding levels to meet the needs of the current community.
The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) provides fire and emergency medical services to 110,000 residents of 250 square miles of eastern Contra Costa County. Fire districts throughout California are primarily funded by property taxes, disbursed according to an allocation rate set 35 years, ago.
When the allocation rate was set, there were maybe 8,000 people living in eastern Contra Costa County, and the area was served by four volunteer fire departments. Back then only about 7.5% of the property tax money collected was spent on fire services.
Today the cities of Brentwood and Oakley alone have about 100,000 residents, with more arriving every month. The total number of residents within the ECCFPD jurisdiction has been estimated at between 110,000 and 120,000.
And the fire district is losing ground. As more people move into the area and the cost of providing services increases, the district is able to provide less and less of its essential services. Area friends and neighbors are dying, and houses are burning down. A multi-fatality incident is just around the corner as the fire district lacks the resources to respond to calls for help.
Last Summer ECCFPD hired Citygate Associates, a well-credentialed industry consulting firm, to determine how many fire stations the area would ultimately need. The answer was nine fire stations. There are now three permanent fire stations. Only nine firefighters are on duty at any point in time, and 15 are required to fight a structure fire.
The nine-station model is a rational definition of the community’s needs, arrived at after in-depth analysis of travel times, population locations and growth trends, and firefighting resource requirements. It is also future-oriented, taking into account the urban and rural development planning now occurring at the two cities and the county.
To pay for adequate fire services using property taxes would require shifting 9.2% of today’s property tax money, collected within its jurisdiction, to the fire district. This is what’s necessary to correct the structural funding deficiency that has been getting worse for the last 15 years.
A group of concerned citizens has put forth a proposal to gradually shift 5.2% of the area’s future property tax money to the fire district, over a period of four years so that no current funding is affected. Government agency managers have opposed this program, denying any willingness to voluntarily participate in solving this community problem.
This grass roots proposal would bring the ECCFPD funding rate up to about the average of fire district funding rates in Contra Costa County. It could provide for potentially six fire stations.
Refusing to participate in solving this community problem is dangerous for local government entities. There is no guarantee that an outside decision maker, perhaps in Sacramento, would make the same decision that locals would make.
By not participating in solving the fire district’s funding problem local government entities run the risk that a solution imposed from afar would cost them much more of their future funding.
Scott is a Brentwood resident and Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizens action committee whose aim is to improve funding for the ECCFPD. He can be reached at 925-418-4428. or firstname.lastname@example.org. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.