By Bryan Scott
The announcement of the recent discovery of $6.2 million of taxpayer money by the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) is yet another indication of the structural under-funding problem that has plagued the fire district for years.
Over six million dollars of operating funds, enough to run two fire stations for a year each, simply fell through the cracks of the fire district’s bookkeeping efforts.
The underlying cause of this calamity is that the ECCFPD, both management and Board of Directors, failed to competently run a fire district. The fire district failed to keep track of the public’s money.
It is clear that appropriate accounting oversight has not been in place. It is not enough that the volunteer firefighter-turned-Fire Chief took on these chores, helped by an Administrative Assistant and a volunteer Board of Directors Finance Committee.
With the closing of fire stations, the increasing visibility of unfunded liabilities to retirees, and the cutting back on services to the public, the fire district management and oversight Board funneled all available funds towards firefighters. They failed to realize that it takes more than firefighters to run a fire district.
It takes someone to keep track of a very complex set of accounting books, too.
And, to add insult to injury, the public was treated to an August 11 article in the Brentwood Press entitled, “Unanswered fire calls increase in July,” emphasizing the failure of government leadership.
According to the story, the residents of the ECCFPD service area were without a responsive fire department for 15 hours during July. During this time thirty-one 9-1-1 calls received no response from ECCFPD.
The residents of Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, Bethel Island and the surrounding areas have an increased likelihood of death and injury, and homes and property are at increased risk, because of government’s failure.
The Grand Jury of Contra Costa County states this fact in its June Report 1706, “Funding the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.”
As far back as 2015, two years ago, a government task force called the fire and emergency medical services level “inadequate.”
The Fire Chief needs to declare a “Local Emergency” under the California Emergency Services Act. Our California Legislature wrote this law as a tool for public servants when they find themselves is a situation where they are unable to provide adequate public services.
An area of 249 square-miles of Eastern Contra Costa County is clearly in a “Local Emergency” situation, experiencing conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property. These conditions are beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of ECCFPD, and require the forces of other government agencies.
In addition to this elevated risk to life and property, area property owners are beginning to be hit with increased insurance premiums. Some homeowners are seeing insurance premiums increase by 200% from just a few years ago.
It is time our Sacramento legislative representatives, Assembly Member Jim Frazier and State Senator Steve Glazer, change the property tax allocation rate so that East County fire services are funded at a rate that’s comparable to other parts of the county.
Call or email Assembly Member Frazier and State Senator Glazer and tell them to fix this problem.
Adequate funding for fire and emergency services needs to be provided before more people die, and more homes burn down.
Brentwood resident Bryan Scott is Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizens action committee striving to improve funding for the ECCFPD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 925-418-4428. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.