Fire Chief, ECCFPD
My name is Bill Weisgerber, Interim Fire Chief for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. I was appointed July 3 by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and have been tasked by the County Administrator and the Board of Supervisors with the responsibility of administrative oversight and direction of daily operations for the fire district, as well as a thorough examination of the fire service delivery condition. To this end, it has been a very busy few months, and I would like to illustrate the work that has been taking place on a consistent and regular basis to address fire service delivery.
When the district was formed in September of 2002, as a result of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) approving a reorganization of the far East County region's fire service delivery, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District was created.
Accomplished through the consolidation of East Diablo Fire Protection District, Oakley Fire Protection District, and Bethel Island Fire Protection District, the operational and administrative reasons for such a reorganization have been validated, as the district has risen to the challenge, essentially improving service, creating a more efficient and effective administration and hiring more career firefighters.
So says Citygate, a statewide-recognized fire-consulting firm, in a recently released report that made recommendations to address the growth and changing demographics for fire service delivery in the far East County. Citygate also found that much remained to be done to address the needs of our communities, which are rapidly transforming from a rural to a suburban character, including determining the number of stations for adequate response coverage; developing industry-standard three-person staffing on engines; increasing service levels to include paramedic first-responder capability; determining fair and affordable salary and benefits levels for district personnel; and establishing the best governance structure to provide more local control of the district.
During the process of developing the Citygate report, a fire service delivery model was identified to address many of these mission-critical issues and includes location of two additional fire stations; relocation of an existing station to a more strategic site; enhancing staffing to three-person (from primarily two-person) engine companies; and increasing response capabilities to include a paramedic on each in-service engine company in the district. Also included in the report is an enhanced model that brings parity between district employees and similar-sized fire service organizations; as well as a discussion of several governance models, including dependent, independent and fire advisory board echelons of policy oversight, with the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative.
Citygate concluded that a tax increase is necessary to provide more money to fund this service delivery model because district tax revenue is limited to a small share of the 1 percent property tax rate approved by voters under Proposition 13 in 1978. What Citygate did not study were two other alternatives: 1) a merger with the larger, neighboring Contra Costa Fire District; or, 2) a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). These alternatives were brought up in recent community meetings, and fire district staff has been discussing the advantages, disadvantages, and costs associated with each of these three options in a series of meetings with County of Contra Costa County Supervisors Glover and Piepho, the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, the three fire agencies chiefs, and the firefighters' union, IAFF Local 1230.
The district has an exceptional command staff, firefighting force and support services staff, of which we are very proud. We currently have a fine cadre of 46 career firefighters and about 20 paid-on-call firefighters, who do a remarkable job for our communities, at a high technical level, with fewer resources than the Contra Costa Fire District. However, the district realizes that staffing levels are sub-standard and pose long-term response and efficiency issues that must be addressed. It is not surprising that 18 of our firefighters applied for job openings in the larger Contra Costa Fire District, along with 2,500 other applicants from around the state. If the aforementioned questions for the East Contra Costa Fire District's service model are not adequately addressed in a timely fashion, not only will the district face long-term response and efficiency dilemma, but a bona fide retention issue will certainly arise out of this situation as well.
The district has solicited and received a set of refined cost proposals from Contra Costa Fire District and CDF to compare against the enhanced district model born out of the Citygate report. All of the cost proposals are based on a model of 10 stations with three-person paramedic engine service, but have required further analysis for direct operational comparison and revenue-to-expenditure "cost gaps."
The district is confident that the voters and taxpayers will demand that we evaluate the best way to live within the financial means of the district before asking taxpayers to add a fire service increment to their existing property tax and special assessments. With this in mind, district staff has been diligently working in concert with County Management, Supervisors Glover and Piepho, Contra Costa Fire District and CDF to develop and analyze service models, compensation and cost models, as well as governance options, preparing the most cost-beneficial alternatives for public consideration - in order to build the East Contra Costa Fire District's service levels in a way that will result in minimal, if any, fiscal impact to the taxpayers. Our primary goal is to increase service (and firefighter compensation) with no new taxes. We are committed to this process and hope that not only the county of Contra Costa and cities of Brentwood and Oakley, but also the other communities in the district (Discovery Bay, Byron, Knightsen, Bethel Island and Morgan Territory) will join us in that goal.
Staff analysis is now examining the approach of growing the district in an incremental fashion that will phase in the service delivery model over a planned period of time and allow revenues to catch up with expenditures as the projected revenues from assessed valuation of property improve. The next steps will include conducting a presentation to the Master Plan Work Group, which represented stakeholder input during the study portion of the Citygate report. Following input from the Master Plan Work Group, staff will present the fire service delivery analysis and alternatives in a series of meetings (to be scheduled as rapidly as the calendar will allow) before the city councils, community service districts and advisory councils served by the fire district, taking public comment on both the report and staff analysis.
The district appreciates the fact that the citizens we serve have been waiting a long time for an answer on fire service delivery. However, we must take these necessary methodical steps to complete our work in seeking the best model for the governance of the district, service delivery to the citizens of the district, and the well being of the employees of the district. Then the real work of service implementation will begin to take shape.
Thank you for your patience and support.