Oakley’s Council Chambers were packed Monday night for the monthly meeting of the East Contra Costa Fire Protect District (ECCFPD) Board of Directors. The budget was the only issue for the majority of those in attendance. Options for balancing the 2010-2011 budget included station closure, and they were there to tell the Board that this option was not acceptable.
The ECCFPD was formed in 2002 through the consolidation of East Diablo Fire District, Oakley-Knightsen Fire District and Bethel Island Fire District. East County Fire District serves the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, as well as the unincorporated areas of Bethel Island, Byron, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, and Marsh Creek-Morgan Territory. Responsible for an area of some 250 square miles, the District is the second largest fire service in the County.
The district is woefully underfunded and has been since the beginning. Fire services are funded with property taxes, the 1% of the assessed value that we all pay. ECCFPD relies on property taxes for 99.6 percent of its revenue, and receives a below average share of property taxes compared with other fire districts in the County. The District’s share of property tax revenues is seven percent in Brentwood, five percent in Oakley, and nine percent, on average, in unincorporated areas; by comparison, the average fire district property tax share countywide is 12 percent in cities (served by fire districts) and 13 percent in unincorporated areas. The majority of taxes collected to run the District come from Brentwood, Oakley and Discovery Bay. There are no feasible opportunities whereby the District could rearrange the property tax pie and shift additional revenue to pay for fire services.
The precipitous drop in home values has exasperated the funding ability of local entities, cities, counties, school districts and special districts. County assessors across the state are reassessing property at lower values. This is a boom to homeowners, who will be paying less tax on their properties, but this is an additional loss of revenue for local entities. Over the last two years ECCFPD has seen revenues decrease by nearly 25% and the trend does not look to be improving. The recovery of property values and the conjoined tax revenues has been thus far rather anemic. At the April 20th Board of Supervisors meeting, the County Assessor announced an approximate 5% additional decrease in property valuation for the fiscal year 2010-11 and estimated 2-3% reduction for fiscal year 2011-12. If the Board stands pat and does nothing, waiting for a miracle source of revenue that does not exist, District reserves will be depleted and unable to meet expenses in about 18 months. Cuts in services and/or manpower will be required to meet the decreasing revenues.
As requested by the Board in the May meeting, staff provided cost information associated with various staffing models and other cost saving options in an attempt to bring expenses closer to anticipated revenues. The modeled staffing scenarios include:
- 48 fire suppression personnel with 8, 7, and 6 station staffing models
- 45 fire suppression personnel with 6 station staffing model
- 42 fire suppression personnel with 5 station staffing model
In addition to the staffing models, various cost saving options have also been included:
- Cal Fire contract
- Reserve Program
In an attempt to stop the coming train wreck the Board asked the staff to return with a budget based on 48 fire personnel and 6 stations and eliminate the Cal Fire contract for the Sunshine station. The reserve program will remain, but be evaluated in six months. The two stations to be closed will be determined later this month.
In order to pass the budget before the fiscal year ends the Board will meet again on Wednesday, June 29 at Oakley City Hall.