Can anyone imagine an elected official remaining in office for 36 years and never changing a policy?
How about a 36-year-old government-spending policy?
We residents of East Contra Costa County are saddled with regulations on government services funding from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Funding practices for government services, in the form of property-tax allocation percentages, were set at that time and remain unchanged more than 36 years later.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
The time has come for the 110,000 residents of East Contra Costa County, and the taxpayers who support the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD), to ask that funding for government services reflect our wishes, not the wishes of the 5,000 to 10,000 area residents from the 1970s.
Imagine the dramatic changes that have occurred since the property-tax allocation percentages were put in place 36 years ago. Back then, Brentwood had a single traffic light and around 5,000 residents. Oakley was an unincorporated village and Discovery Bay - as we know it today - did not exist. There were no Summerset and Trilogy active-adult communities, there were no golf courses and as for boating and marinas, they were located way up north in Antioch. Farms were plentiful though, with fruit orchards and cornfields filling the vast majority of today’s 249-square-mile ECCFPD territory.
Our part of the world has changed dramatically since that time when our government agencies received their allocation percentages of property-tax funds. While these allocations were correctly set and were reasonable for their time, the world has changed.
Today more than 100,000 more people require the life-sustaining services provided by our government, and these services are not receiving their fair and adequate share of property-tax funds. Instead, other government services, which might improve the quality of our lives, are being funded at the expense of more necessary services that sustain life and protect property.
It is time for a change.
The East County Voters for Equal Protection (ECV) created a program that adjusts property-tax allocation percentages for the ECCFPD, with no increase to taxpayers. The district currently receives a percentage of tax money that is the lowest of all fire districts in the county. The severe funding shortages have resulted in closed fire stations and a woefully inadequate level of emergency services.
The program would raise the percentage of taxes that the ECCFPD receives to a level that is close to the average percentage that other fire districts in the county receive. This program calls for the 30 or so government agencies who now receive property-tax funding within the fire district to shift to the district a total of $7.8 million of the $154 million of property taxes collected within the ECCFPD jurisdiction.
The ECV program would follow procedures outlined in the California Revenue and Taxation Code and elsewhere. These funds would allow the district to permanently open and staff three additional fire stations, with no additional taxes imposed on residents. The current special assessments appearing on tax bills would not be effected.
The ECV program calls for the agency recipients of the ad valorem property tax to voluntarily shift a small portion (5.2 percent) of their property-tax allocation percentage to the fire district. District taxpayers would not be asked to pay any additional taxes. Phasing in the program over a number of years would mean that no current budgets would be cut, and the reallocated amount would be less than the expected growth in government revenues. No current budget expenditures would be effected, but each agency’s funding would grow by a smaller amount.
Each of our government agencies, those that provide services to the residents of East Contra Costa County, needs to begin taking steps to adopt this program now, so that it can be implemented with the start of next fiscal year on July 1.
The time for change is now!
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 goal is to improve funding for the ECCFPD. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 925-418-4428 or follow the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters.