The Brentwood City Council is failing in its duty to provide fire and emergency services for the city’s residents.
The council members are violating their oath of office, breaching their duty of care and are not taking necessary actions described in the city’s general plan.
By any first-world standard, the residents of Brentwood, as well as all 110,000 residents of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD), are receiving inadequate fire and emergency medical services. People are dying, homes are burning down and residents are paying excessive fire-insurance premiums.
All of this is occurring while the city council, at the direction of City Manager Gus Vina, refuses to take the one sure path to increase funding to the ECCFPD - property-tax allocation reform.
Rather than floating a new tax initiative in front of the public for approval or, more likely disapproval, our elected leaders could fix the problem by directing city administration to adjust the growth of their budgets to a slightly slower expansion rate and transfer the money to the fire district.
In October, a task force comprised of two fire chiefs, a battalion chief, three firefighter union leaders, two city managers and the chiefs of staff for two county supervisors reported, “The ECCFPD has on-going structural financial deficiencies to the extent that it is unable to provide adequate fire suppression and medical response services to the communities in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.”
In March, ECCFPD Captain Gil Guerrero, union vice president and task force member, at a public hearing said, “Discovery Bay has lost three residents to cardiac arrest, because engines were unavailable to respond. ECCFPD has no paramedics, no fireboat and no ladder truck. ECCFPD serves over 110,000 people, and its three engines respond to 6,900 calls annually.”
In June, ECCFPD paid Citygate Associates, an industry leading consulting firm, for the production of a master-plan study. It was presented to the fire district in June and says, in part, “The district is the most under deployed and administratively understaffed fire department we have seen in over a decade for the size of the communities to be protected.”
In April, the Contra Costa County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) published a Municipal Services Review (MSR) that states that the No. 1 challenge the ECCFPD faces is low property-tax funding.
“Due to the volunteer and extraordinarily small service populations of the predecessor-dependent districts prior to the formation of ECCFPD, low property-tax rates were allocated to fire service. The average tax rate for the district is 7 percent, compared to 12 percent for Confire and 14 percent for San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. The small, low-tax-rate districts were consolidated into the ECCFPD and fail to generate an adequate tax base to support their full-time operations,” the report says.
The problem is well-documented. The results are known. And still, the Brentwood City Council refuses to take the only action under its complete control to fix the problem - reform property-tax allocation.
The time to solve the problem is now, not in November after the utility-user tax fails, as polling suggests, and as two prior tax initiatives have done.
Mayor Bob Taylor, Vice Mayor Joel Bryant, Councilman Steve Barr, Councilman Erick Stonebarger and Councilman Gene Clare: Tell your city manager to create pro forma budgets for the next four years that reflect 1.3 percent less property-tax growth each year, and direct that the 1.3 percent portion of increased revenues go to the fire district. You’ll still have an additional 4.7 percent of the projected 6 percent growth in property-tax funding to work with in the budgets.
Fix the structural funding problem, Brentwood City Council, and begin at once to lead the allocation-reform effort. The citizens you represent deserve it.
Bryan Scott is a Brentwood resident who occasionally becomes a community affairs activist. He is co-chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a nonpartisan citizens action committee whose aim is to improve funding for the ECCFPD. For more information, email email@example.com, call 925-418-4428 or visit www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters.