The East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District 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.
Prop 13 was passed in June of 1978 and implemented a number of changes that included:
- Capped ad valorem property tax rates at one percent of full cash value at the time of acquisition.
- The one percent tax was to be collected by the counties and apportioned according to law, to the districts within the counties.
- Rolled back property values for tax purposes to their 1976 level.
- Gave state lawmakers responsibility for allocating property tax revenues among local jurisdictions.
- Replaced the practice of annually reassessing property at market value with a system based on cost at acquisition.
- Taxes raised by local governments for a designated or special purpose to be approved by two-thirds of the voters instead of the 50% plus 1.
We all pay 1% in property tax. Some other governmental agencies use the property tax bill to add their charges which can explain the disparity in bills across a community, but still, we all pay 1% of the assessed value in property tax. After Prop 13 passed the legislature needed to devise a property tax allocation formula; the legislature chose a pro rata formula to allocate the property tax. The state basically took the average percentage of what was collected over the prior three years and applied that allocation percentage your property tax.
So if you were a high tax city or district your percentage would remain the same. Conversely low taxing entities remained low. Prior to 1978 Far East County resident’s allocation of property tax being paid for fire services was low and unfortunately it stayed low, there is an average of slightly over 6 cents of every property tax dollar going to Fire Protection in Far East County, while the average in the rest of the County is 15 cents per dollar.
Regardless of where you live, San Ramon, Oakley, Pleasant Hill, San Pablo or Moraga, that house with an assessed value of $500,000 will pay $5,000 or 1% in property taxes. However, the level of fire protection provided varies greatly depending upon which community you live in. The allocation percentage that is taken by the county varies between communities. For instance, in Oakley, on average the County receives 14%, in Brentwood, on average, its 9%. The County does not ration the services that it provides based allocation percentage.
Much of the county is serviced by one of the 7 districts listed above. Richmond, El Cerrito and Pinole are city operated departments. Why not consolidate all 7 districts into 1? Consolidation affords the opportunity to streamline operations, improve efficiency and reduce response times. The savings in consolidating the administration, communications, training and equipping would be considerable making it easier to provide all citizens of Contra Costa with the same level of fire protection regardless of property tax allocation. With auto-aid and mutual aid we are nearly there. (Automatic aid is assistance dispatched automatically by contractual agreement between two fire districts. That differs from mutual aid or assistance arranged case by case.)