On June 29, the ECCFPD board will meet and likely pass a budget that will close two local fire stations – an action which will haphazardly decrease the safety of citizens everywhere in this district (especially the outlying, unincorporated areas). Regardless of cuts to our vital public services, this move will almost certainly still result in the eventual bankruptcy of a district whose survival is balancing on the edge of a knife, or rather, fire axe.
Fortunately, the decision isn’t yet final – we have one last opportunity to make our voices heard and try to change the direction in which this board is headed. It is crucial that all concerned East County residents attend the June 29 budget meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Oakley City Council chambers.
We are all aware of the downturn in the economy, and we know a lot of public agencies are struggling. The ECCFPD is no exception, but what you may not know is that this district has been dealing with money issues for the past several years. Unfortunately, when our local economy was bustling and home prices were soaring, nothing was done in preparation for lean times – like those we’re now facing.
This newly-formed board (the directors were seated in February of 2010) has had far from enough time to properly research all of the avenues available to the district and is now tasked with the immense responsibility of immediately deciding the fate of our fire stations, firemen and women, and other vital staff, not to mention the safety of citizens in the affected areas.
Under the board’s direction, Interim Chief Hugh Henderson and district staff prepared five budget scenarios to immediately cut spending. Those scenarios offered options for having eight, seven, six or five stations (currently there are eight stations plus a CalFire contract that staffs the Sunshine Station in the Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory area).
The scenarios proposed staffing the stations with a total of 48, 45 or 42 fire-suppression personnel depending on the specific scenario presented, and included an option to cancel the reserve program. It should be noted that with the exception of the most dire scenario (five stations, 42 personnel), all of these scenarios will still result in bankruptcy in 2012-13 unless the board is able to achieve a revenue enhancement and/or if even more significant cuts are made.
On May 7, all of these budget scenarios were presented to the board in front of over 100 members of the public, who unanimously urged the board to come up with options that did not include closing stations. Despite the numerous comments made by members of the public expressing fear and concern, the board voted, and seven of the nine directors (all Brentwood and Oakley elected officials) agreed that the staff should explore just one of these scenarios: a six-station, 48-personnel model, in preparation for the June 29 special meeting.
The directors representing the unincorporated areas (Chris Finetti of Discovery Bay and Robert Kenny of Bethel Island) both voted against the motion. Director Finetti and Director Kenny urged the board to hold off on trying to pass a budget at this time, and to instead explore every other possible avenue available to the district – in particular, an attempt to get voters to pass a revenue enhancement.
As a citizen I cannot even begin to express my deep concerns regarding the survival of the district if the board passes this budget scenario. Roughly speaking, the six-station scenario does the following:
• Ends the CalFire contract and closes the Marsh Creek station during the “wet” season.
• Closes two stations in the unincorporated areas (Station 58 in Discovery Bay, Station 57 in Byron and/or Station 59 in Bethel Island.
• Increases staffing at all stations in Brentwood and Oakley to 3-0 status, and likely increases Station 59 in Discovery Bay to 3-0 status as well. The other remaining stations in the unincorporated areas would still be staffed 2-0.
• Response times would significantly change in the unincorporated areas:
• Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory: Response time would be 15 to 20 minutes vs. the current 10 minutes.
• Byron: Response time would be 12 to 14 minutes vs. the current 7.5 minutes.
• Bethel Island: Response time would be 12 to 18 minutes vs. the current 7.1 minutes.
• Discovery Bay: Response time would be 9 to 11 minutes vs. the current 6.5 minutes.
• The safety of all residents of East County will be at risk due to the reduced coverage in the unincorporated areas due to the way the stations work to cover for each other when engines are out on calls. Even more alarming, however, is that the Byron station is a first responder for Vasco Road incidents, and the Discovery Bay 58 station is a first responder for incidents on the Delta in the Discovery Bay area.
• Residents living near closed stations may have their fire (homeowner’s) insurance rates increased due to the closure, and in the event that residents live more than 5 miles from a station, it is possible that these residents may have difficulty retaining fire insurance at all.
• This six-station option saves only $70,000 more than the eight-station model that has all stations staffed 2-0. The eight-station, 2-0 model worked well for East County for many years. In fact, it was only recently that one Brentwood and one Oakley station transitioned to 3-0 coverage.
• The ECCFPD would still face bankruptcy in 2012-13.
• It is inevitable that closing two stations will result in greater injury, greater property loss and potentially loss of life due to the significant increase in response times.
It is critical that all concerned members of our community attend the ECCFPD special meeting June 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the Oakley City Council chambers to hear about the board’s plan for cuts to our public services, and to voice your opinion on the issue. No matter where you live in East County, this dire situation does impact you and your neighbors. I urge you to attend, and I hope you’ll tell your friends and neighbors how important it is that we show up and stand up for the safety of our families, neighbors, homes and businesses.
If you cannot attend the meeting on the 29th, contact board representatives via phone and e-mail and ask them to support a short-term budget that balances the power and the pressure throughout the district (eight-station, 2-0 model) so we can properly focus on a long-term goal that sees the district thrive.
Brian Dawson is the treasurer for the Town of Discovery Bay.