Even increasing the tax by the allowable 3 percent per year (the tax becomes $250 in 10 years) and including modest property tax growth, the district will begin spending more than it takes in within four years. At the end of 10 years it will end up where it is now financially – or more likely in worse shape. Why? The cost of the Measure S 30-percent staffing increase, adding another station, the growing pension obligation, etc. increase the district’s expenses beyond the capacity of even the $250 tax level.
That means a $250 tax will have to not only become permanent but will have to be increased under the 30-percent staffing increase model that is justifying Measure S.
A 2011 district-funded survey showed that people supported a $96 tax – a big number for people in this struggling economy. But the district Measure S would cost 2½ times that tax amount and yet still doesn’t solve the district’s long-term problems. So in order to pass the measure, scare tactics must be employed. At one district meeting, one of the board members actually said that they should spend all the reserves and force people to vote for a parcel tax. Talk about arrogance and irresponsible behavior! But that is essentially what the district is doing.
This is not about good fire protection or even good government. If it were, other steps would have been taken and a reasonable tax that actually solved the district’s problems would have been put before the voters instead of proposing this 30-percent staffing increase as the only option. For example:
The district has not talked to Cal Fire, the state fire agency that other troubled districts have turned to in order to reduce costs, since 2006.
The district has not negotiated a change in firefighters’ retirement benefits, which currently allows them to retire at age 50 on 3 percent of their salary for each year they have worked. In fact, union negotiations have stopped until after the election, when the union members will want more – not less – if this tax passes. The district had an unfunded pension liability of over $21 million as of Dec. 31, 2010.
Let’s talk briefly about fire insurance costs, which is the primary scare tactic currently being used. An honest answer is that nobody knows what would happen. Fire insurance is only one component of your home insurance premium. The Insurance Rating Service, which looks at fire-protection service, includes many factors in the evaluation of homeowner’s insurance fire-protection cost. For example: 40 percent of their calculation is water availability that will not change; 10 percent is communications systems, and that will not change.
But the discussion should not even get to this point. There is still time for the district to provide solutions after this tax fails. Instead of frightening people about what might be, the district needs to come up with workable solutions and then propose a modest parcel tax, if needed, in time for the November election. The district needs to govern on behalf of the public.
These are tough times, and choosing to expand staffing by 30 percent while failing to solve the financial problems of the district is just wrong and should not be rewarded by getting your vote.
The financial realities are likely to get lost in the upcoming days and only scare tactics about closing stations will remain. That is a shame. Taking the district to the financial brink and offering only a costly service expansion as the costly option is not good governing. Asking residents for this kind of a tax increase in these tough times, when so many homes in the district’s service area are under water, is not good governing.
Residents of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District deserve good fire services they can afford and sustain for the long term. The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association opposes Measure S because it rewards the kind of short-term thinking that would leave the district with major long-term problems.
Please vote No on Measure S.