If the recommendations from the MSR are enacted by LAFCO what are the options available for Oakley?
The first recommendation, to expand and contract the SOI for the district, will not have much of an impact on Oakley. The second, determining a new governance model and determining and adequate revenue stream within a 12-month time frame, may prove more problematic.
One of the constant themes throughout the report was the inadequate revenue for the district. The allocation of property taxes post Prop 13 has severally limited the service that can be provided without an additional revenue stream. Fire stations in the cities of Brentwood and Oakley have smaller crews than in urban areas elsewhere, and a substantial portion of tax revenues generated in the cities is expended on operating fire stations in outlying areas. Property tax revenues generated in the cities of Brentwood and Oakley presently subsidize service levels in the unincorporated areas.
ECCFPD governing body members (Board of Supervisors) are not representative of the community. So what are the alternatives?
In 2002, when the district was formed, LAFCO discussed the alternative of an independent district and a JPA. They had expected a timely decision on the matter, and expected a ballot measure on independent governance if a JPA was not be formed within a two-year period. As recently as 2008 Oakley, Brentwood and the County had lengthy discussions on an independent district. In an independent district, the district is governed by an elected board. The size board would be determined by Oakley, Brentwood and the County. The board may initially be composed of council members and supervisors, but would eventually be elected members of the public, as are board members for Ironhouse Sanitary District and Diablo Water District.
A Joint Powers Authority (JPA) is permitted in California and other states to allow two or more public authorities (e.g. local governments) to operate collectively on activities that transcend their boundaries. Oakley is currently involved in a number of JPAs that include: Tri Delta Transit and the State Route 4 Bypass Authority. The board of directors would be elected officials from member governments of the JPA.
ESTABLISH MORE APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF SERVICE
In a district as diverse as ECCFPD what is the best way allocate the scares resource of the district? The Board of Supervisors have been operating the District with the mindset that the entire District needs the same level of service, which has been done at the expense and risk to the more suburban areas of the District, Oakley and Brentwood. We could create a level of service designation that is essentially 2-tiered – one rural and one suburban. Some East County areas would likely have 3 firefighter stations, some 2 person, and maybe one or two Paid-on-Call or stations closed. This scenario may also work on a grander scale if we could adopt it as a means of consolidating with ConFire.
OAKLEY CONSOLIDATION WITH ConFire
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConFire) provides fire prevention, suppression, and emergency medical response for advanced and basic life support to nine cities and much of the unincorporated territory in the central and western portions of the County. The ConFire boundaries encompass the central and northern portions of Contra Costa County, extending from the City of Antioch in the east to the eastern border of the City of Richmond in the west, and as far south as the northern border of the City of Moraga
Is it possible for Oakley to merge with ConFire? ConFire currently is the first on the scene on a number of calls in western Oakley. The MSR has determined that Oakley and or Brentwood do not presently have adequate funding to finance service levels provided by ConFire. ConFire salary levels and service levels are substantially higher than those paid by ECCFPD, and ConFire receives a substantially higher share of property taxes than would be available if the cities were to detach from ECCFPD. The two cities generated $7.7 million, or approximately $92 per capita, in fire-related property tax revenues in FY 07-08. By comparison, ConFire revenues were $198 per capita.
DISTRICT CONSOLIDATION WITH ConFIRE
Consolidation of the entire ECCFPD with ConFire is also an option, albeit infeasible. Although transferable property tax revenues per capita are slightly higher in the unincorporated areas than in the cities, the costs of sustaining existing service levels in the unincorporated areas is significantly higher than in the cities. Consolidation of the entire ECCFPD area with ConFire would have a greater negative fiscal impact on ConFire than would annexation of just the cities. ECCFPD is not financially incompatible with ConFire at this time.
In both cases if the financial incompatibility is not addressed, the options are infeasible because the law empowers ConFire to oppose annexation and because existing ConFire areas would have incentives to oppose an annexation that would likely have negative impacts on existing ConFire service levels.
ConFire staff supports consolidation with other fire agencies and annexations so long as there is a baseline funding level, such as the equivalent of a net 12 percent property tax share, and reported that the source of funds was of less concern than the funding level. Based on that standard, Oakley would need an additional $2 million in revenue (FY 07-08 dollars) for fire purposes, and Brentwood would need an additional $3 million in revenue to afford ConFire service levels. The shortfall is the equivalent of $178 per home in the two cities.
ESTABLISH OUR OWN FIRE DEPTPARTMENT
Oakley could detach itself from the district and create our own fire department. Although the thought of having an “Oakley Fire Department” sounds somewhat nostalgic the realities of the existing revenue dilemma would make the idea cost prohibitive.
ANOTHER SERVICE PROVIDER
Oakley could detach itself from the district and contract with another service provider, such as CAL FIRE. The cities’ property tax revenues would clearly provide for a higher service level than the cities are currently receiving.
Which option is best for Oakley. Right now I’m not sure. Negotiations between Oakley, Brentwood and the County need to start again. Ultimately the voters of Far East County will have their say.