By Bryan Scott
The East County Voters for Equal Protection (ECV), a non-partisan citizens action committee, is organizing a workshop later this month to discuss a proposal to correct the structural funding deficiency that is afflicting the local fire services agency, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD).
Twenty-two local government entities have been invited, including the county, the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, special districts and schools.
The proposal ECV is advocating will improve ECCFPD funding by about $7.8 million, and potentially provide for three additional fire stations, bringing the district’s total to six. There are now just three permanent stations serving 110,000 people spread over 249 square miles.
The proposal relies on the traditional growth in property tax revenues to avoid any cuts in current funding. If the proposal is adopted the increased property tax revenues that 22 government entities can expect would grow a little slower over a three or four year program implementation period.
This proposal is a significant one. It is the type of policy decision that elected officials, the chosen representatives of the public, need to make because it is the general public who will benefit from this program.
Government administrators are naturally opposed to this proposal. City Managers, schools administrators, the county administrator, have all gone on record opposing the solution because their specific government entity would lose future funds.
These government workers are not looking at the big picture. All government funds come, in one manner or another, from the public taxpayers. The money ought to be used to meet the needs of today’s taxpayer population.
That’s why the elected representatives of the people need to make this decision, not those who are paid to operate pieces of the people’s business.
The Ghost Ship Fire occurred in Oakland several months ago. It was a tragedy that took the lives of 36 people at a warehouse in the city’s District 5. Noel Gallo is the City Councilmember who represents District 5, and he stepped forward visibly during the crisis. He is a former school board member who understands the importance of fire and emergency medical response services to a community. Gallo will speak at the fire district funding workshop.
The structural funding problem that has increased response times and reduced the number of firefighters is not a new phenomenon. It has grown as East County’s population has grown, dramatically since the late 1990’s. Attempts to solve the problem with new tax measures have failed three times.
This proposal, if adopted, will address this structural funding problem. It will provide money to East County fire and emergency medical services so that ECCFPD receives an allocation rate closer to the rate that other parts of the county receive for their fire and emergency medical services. The funding allocation rate will then be at about the average for the county’s fire districts.
Shifting public money to a higher-priority service, in many cases a life-sustaining service, is the right thing to do. Three lives have been lost due to inadequate response capability, a fire department official has said.
The proposal being brought forth is not new. It has been talked about for over 15 months.
ECV was formed in January of 2016. The leaders of this group have made 19 formal presentations to public agencies, civic and social groups. They have attended over 46 meetings with elected, hired, or appointed officials, and conducted 10 public committee meetings. Over 75 articles and opinion pieces have been published in local periodicals, online, and in social media by ECV.
It is time for our elected representatives the people to do what’s best for the people.
Bryan 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 email@example.com, or 925-418-4428. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.