It is a good bet that the proposed ECCFPD supplemental tax will fail. It is too open-ended, it does not provide fundamental solutions, it pits community against community, it does not take in leveraging opportunities … and the 66-percent requirement for passage is just too high for an expensive supplemental tax this nebulous and controversial.
It is my opinion that right now this plan for a new tax needs to be pulled (before it fails at the ballot box) and the ECCFPD needs to go back to the Board of Supervisors (BoS). Although it has done a terrible job of dealing with the two county fire departments, unfortunately only the BoS can deal with the situation in the manner and time frame necessary to effect the kind of real change needed to position the county’s fire/EMS service for success into the future.
The BoS needs to step back in and devise a bold solution. That solution is a brand new fire/EMS department.
Key point: I do not think a merger of Con Fire and ECCFPD is the solution. The solution must be a new fire/EMS entity that pulls from the predicate districts but uses a new reality approach to organization, configuration, compensation, financing and taxation. This will not be simple or pain free, but the pain associated with the status quo and a failed tax measure will be worse.
This is a slightly refined/expanded suggestion that was made to the new fire board two years ago:
A) Construct a brand new fire/EMS department, completely getting rid of Con Fire and the ECCFPD.
B) Disband the county’s internal EMS department (put the savings on the street).
C) Put EMS under the new fire department and start/develop an association with a regional EMS agency (there are already five of these in the state).
D) Implement a P-District/Zone like fire/EMS operation tax for all new housing developments under county control. Seek an agreement from the cities to do the same.
E) Configure fire crews, EMS and response times strategically, tactically and individually for each unique area. The same crew size/configuration for every area should not be an expectation.
F) Put on a future ballot an incremental tax plan (if necessary) that is calculated after the implementation of A through E.
Key Point: In part A of the suggested plan, the basic premise would have to be that Con Fire’s current pay/benefit plan would not be the overlay for the new fire department. A tiered pay/benefit plan would have to be developed based on current times, reality and a realistic outlook that can be paid for without racking up huge debt or recreating the pattern of ongoing financial trouble the two current fire departments have exhibited.
A new, well-structured, fully leveraged fire/EMS department would bring long-term stability to the employees and be a tangible/smart solution that residents countywide would rally around and feel better about investing additional tax resources (if necessary) into. But to get to that point, the BoS needs to step up now. If it doesn’t, it will have to shoulder a big part of the blame when the tax measure fails.
Jeff Barber, Discovery Bay