By Bryan Scott
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to reallocate over $700,000 of property tax funds each year, in perpetuity, to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) on Tuesday, October 18, 2016. Still, the fire district continues to struggle with insufficient funding due to a property tax funding rate that was set three decades ago,when the district’s 249-square-mile territory was primarily farmland and small communities.
The Board of Supervisors used the process described in the California Revenue and Taxation Code, Chapter 6, Section 99.02 to change the fire district’s funding rate, something that has been advocated by a citizens action committee for most of this year.
East County Voters for Equal Protection (ECV) is advocating the use of this method to raise the ECCFPD funding level from about 7%, the lowest of all fire districts in the county, to just over 12%, the county average.
Since ECV began advocating for reallocation critics have claimed that the process doesn’t work, or that it takes too long. Members of the local government establishment have gone to great lengths to criticize the reallocation process, which would increase fire district funding with no new taxes, by making false and misleading statements to the public.
Instead of supporting reallocation a group of government and fire district union employees has worked to create a way to tax the public. This resulted in Utility User Taxes being place on the November 8 ballot in the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, but not the other parts of the fire district, the towns of Discovery Bay, Byron, Knightsen, Bethel Island or the Marsh Creek unincorporated areas.
The recently reallocated property tax funds will begin accruing to the ECCFPD with the next fiscal year, beginning on July 1, 2017. The process works, and it works rather quickly, in government time-speak.
The ECV plan for reallocation of the property taxes would increase funding for the fire district without raising taxes. The plan calls for all entities within ECCFPD’s jurisdiction that receive property tax funding to contribute to the community’s safety. Special districts and non-school government entities would use the same law the Board of Supervisors just used,California Revenue and Taxation Code section 99.02, to shift a portion of the growth of property tax funding to the fire district, while school entities would contribute a “public safety infrastructure fee” of comparable amount from their operating funds.
This year property tax valuation grew by over 8% in Brentwood, Oakley and most of the unincorporated county areas. This is what Gus Kramer, Assessor for Contra Costa County, told the Board of Supervisors in a letter dated June 30, 2016.
By phasing-in the tax reallocation program goal of 5.2% over four years each year’s transferred amount would be 1.3% of the funding growth, well below expected growth. As an example, if the reallocation plan were in place this year each entity’s growth in property tax funding would be 6.7% instead of 8%. This is a small price to pay to assure the safety of East County residents.
If property tax growth unexpectedly fell below 3% the program could be suspended until such time as normal growth returned.
Using this method there would be NO CUTS to current government expenditures. Revenues would continue to grow, but at a slower rate to accommodate the gradually shifting of funds to the fire district.
Once ECCFPD’s funding level is at the county average, about 12%, the structural funding problem of the district would be solved. Full growth would return to the tax-receiving entities of East Contra Costa.
The most important aspect of the reallocation program idea is that it is a community’s solution to a community problem.
Scott is a Brentwood resident who occasionally becomes a community affairs activist. He is Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizens action committee whose aim is to improve funding for the ECCFPD. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, his telephone number is 925-418-4428. The group’s Facebook page is located at www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.