Although I usually don’t respond to calls from unknown phone numbers, I did happen to answer a call several days ago. It turned out to be another survey regarding ECCFPD, our East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
The district board is getting us ready for the fix the fire chief was alluding to at the Brentwood Council meeting a few nights ago. The gist of the call was to seek community feedback about a special assessment in an upcoming mail ballot to be sent to every property owner within our fire district, including Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Byron, Knightsen and Bethel Island. The special assessment will run for 15 years. When calculated for my residence, $432.18 will be added to my property tax bill each year to resolve the fire district’s revenue problems.
By now, we should all be aware of the lack of adequate fire and emergency services provided to the 120,000 residents living in the 249-square-mile area within the fire district’s jurisdiction. The revenue problems inherited by the current chief have left us with only three stations and nine firefighters, unable to meet national standards for response times.
The lack of sufficient revenue today is the result of tax allocations set by law almost 40 years ago, without any provision for updating the allocations as needs changed. In 2002, the county consolidated the three volunteer fire departments in East County into a single, paid firefighter district, ECCFPD, as the jurisdiction went from a primarily rural area to communities with exploding populations and housing developments, accompanied by growing businesses.
With all due respect to the chief and our firefighters, this proposed taxpayer assessment to resolve ECCFPD’s dire revenue situation is not the solution. The last three efforts to turn to the taxpayers for relief each failed. The message from the taxpayers is simple: we are taxed enough. NO MORE NEW TAXES! Public safety is government’s highest priority and should be adequately provided with the taxes government already receives. Fund the needs of the community first, then the wants.
Legislators and government officials in a position to fix the problem have refused to act over the years, as the situation worsens. The cities of Brentwood and Oakley account for more than 88% of the population within ECCFPD’s jurisdiction, while the remaining 12% of the fire district’s population lives in the unincorporated communities of East County.
A nonpartisan citizens’ petition to bring the issue to the fall ballot in Brentwood, requiring Brentwood to spend additional funds from growth in sales and property taxes — not new taxes — was forced to be suspended when there could be no more signature-gathering because of COVID-19 mandates. Likewise, the petition for Oakley, which was planned to follow the Brentwood petition, was stymied.
The Brentwood Council could have decided to take the bold step to put the petition on the ballot, as is, or fine-tune it to meet any legal requirements, and thus, let its citizens decide how they want their tax money used.
But Brentwood leaders have not chosen to do so, citing uncertainty in the budget outlook, as a result of the economic impact due to COVID-19. That’s understandable but not acceptable. Faced with the same economic outlook, are the taxpayers in a better position to shoulder the load with increased taxes? Once again, nothing is done, and public safety suffers. Our government entities are responsible for sorting out needs and wants, yet fail to make the hard decisions they were elected to make.
It’s way past the time for the leaders of Brentwood, Oakley and Contra Costa County to step up to the plate and fix the issue of inadequate fire and emergency services in East Contra Costa County, once and for all, with a permanent, guaranteed, sustainable solution.
In the meantime, if you get a survey call from American Directions Research Group (279-399-2101), you might want to answer and give them your thoughts on the subject.