By Bryan Scott
The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) provides an essential government service, responding to the best of its ability to calls for help.
The state of California describes these services as “critical to the public peace, health, and safety of the state.” (Health & Safety Code Section 13801)
Unfortunately, the district is unable to adequately provide these services.
They can’t, for the simple reason that the funding rate for the ECCFPD was set nearly four decades ago. It has not changed, even though the area’s population has gone from 8,000 to over 110,000 people.
Assemblymember Jim Frazier recognizes the dire situation, perhaps better than any other state politician, as he has served on the Board of the ECCFPD as well as the Oakley City Council.
“Please know I will do all I can to investigate solutions that do not involve raising taxes so we can properly fund our fire district and protect lives and property by reopening closed fire stations,” he said in a press release broadcast on July 7.
Funding the fire district with new taxes has repeatedly failed, as three tax measures proposed since 2012 have all lost. Voluntary reallocation of property taxes has been discussed, but local governments refuse to give up future revenue increases.
Assembly Bill 898, proposed by Assembly Member Frazier earlier this year, involuntarily reallocates $10.5 million from the East Bay Regional Parks District. It was withdrawn from discussion at the Assembly’s Committee on Local Government on April 17, 2017.
So as of today, no funding solution is moving forward.
All possible solutions need to be examined. One unexplored solution is an Emergency Services Additional Revenue District (ESARD), created by the state legislature for the fire district.
An ESARD could correct the fire district’s underfunding by providing money borrowed from the state in combination with a portion of the 1% ad valorem property tax revenues generated in unincorporated county areas.
An East Contra Costa Fire Protection District ESARD would be a distinct legal entity, and would be authorized to receive a declining share of unincorporated community areas’ property tax growth increment, borrow and repay money from the state treasury, and determine the adequate and necessary funding level for the fire district.
The ESARD Board would be appointed with elected and community stakeholders, reflecting both local and state-level oversight. Limited administrative costs and a local administrator may be needed to organize and operate the board until the ECCFPD administrative staff can take over these duties.
A comprehensive and fully acceptable financial model could be developed to illustrate that tax dollars would eventually exceed loan payments, and show that upon dissolution the ESARD would distribute excess ad valorem increments to tax receiving agencies. This publically interactive model would be available on both the ESARD and ECCFPD websites.
The ESARD would operate in a fashion similar to a redevelopment agency. This type of government entity dates back to the 1945 Community Redevelopment Act. Subsequent laws established “tax-increment financing” as a viable method of government funding.
The advantage of establishing a fire district ESARD is that the amount of additional funding would be flexible, established by its Board.
An “adequate and necessary” ECCFPD funding level, which might be six fire stations instead of the district’s current three, could be provided with the help of loaned money from the state.
The ESARD would eventually sunset out of business, once the amount of property tax increments being collected is sufficient to repay the state treasury money that had been borrowed, plus interest. The property tax increments will then be assigned to the ECCFPD to maintain adequate and necessary service levels, with surplus increments being returned to their source government entities.
California redevelopment agencies accomplished a great deal until 2012, when they were disbanded. Using the same principles in East Contra Costa could solve the public safety funding emergency.
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/.