Contra Costa Times
Guest Commentary: Bryan Scott
Elected representatives should fix the funding problem with East Contra Costa Fire Protection District
By Bryan Scott For the Times 12/1/2015
Posted: 12/01/2015 04:25:31 PM PST
The East Contra Costa Fire District is experiencing significant financial difficulties as it tries to provide fire and emergency medical services to an ever-growing region of the county. This is no secret as the district has reduced the number of fire stations from eight to three recently.
What might be a surprise to most residents is that the ECCFPD has been operating on a funding level that was set when the East County region was primarily corn fields and fruit orchards, with a population of one-tenth the number of current residents.
The ECCFPD receives most of its money from property taxes. In the 1970s, when Proposition 13 was enacted, the three rural fire districts covering Eastern Contra Costa County received about 8 percent of the property tax dollars collected within the 249 square miles that encompassed the districts. They did a fine job, back then, of protecting corn fields and fruit orchards.
This 8 percent average property tax allocation percentage was fixed at this level, cast in concrete, and has not changed in the nearly 40 years that have transpired since it was established.
When viewed against today's demographics it shows that residents of the area served by the ECCFPD allocate $106 per person, on average, of their property tax dollars towards fire and emergency medical services.
Other fire districts in the county allocate considerably more of their property tax dollars toward this life-preserving service, and end up setting aside considerably more on a per-person basis for this purpose. San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District receives roughly $349 per person for each of the 169,900 district residents. The Moraga-Orinda Fire Protection District, a smaller district in terms of population and area, receives $366 per person.
Both of these fire districts were well-established residential areas when the property tax allocation percentages were determined in the 1970s. Back then the Moraga-Orinda and San Ramon Valley communities were setting aside what they felt was an appropriate amount for fire and emergency medical services, and so having their property tax dollar allocations set at 21 percent and 15 percent, respectively, has provided and continues to provide an acceptable level of service.
That is not the case in East County, where our service levels are below acceptable standards.
When the coverage area of each fire district is compared with ECCFPD the local fire district comes up short again. The ECCFPD property tax allocation percentage of 8 percent provides just $47,000 for each square mile within its district. The Moraga-Orinda Fire Protection District's 21 percent property tax allocation provides $366,000 per square mile of its 47-square mile area, and the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District's 15 percent allocation provides $383,000 per square mile for coverage of its 155 square miles.
The region covered by the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District is probably most similar to eastern Contra Costa County. Its 155 square miles is less than the 249 square miles of the ECCFPD, and its population of 169,900 is greater than the ECCFPD's 110,000 resident.
Considering these factors it is not a surprise that the ECCFPD property tax allocation funding is less than the allocated funding of San Ramon Valley Fire District. The current property tax allocation funding of the ECCFPD is $11,654,565. The property tax allocation funding of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District is $59,300,000.
Twelve million dollars versus sixty million dollars!
Should the ECCFPD allocation be just 19.7 percent of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District's budget? Should it be only about one-fifth as large? No, it should not.
The first step in changing the property tax allocation rate requires the endorsement of a plan by the city councils of Brentwood and Oakley as well as the approval of the members of the Board of Supervisors. From there a state law needs to be written, submitted to the legislature and then voted on by the Assembly and the Senate.
A number of concerned residents have been meeting lately, and a plan to change the property tax allocation percentages appears to be emerging.
As one resident of East Contra Costa, I feel that it is better to spend our tax dollars on the preservation of life services provided by the ECCFPD than on other government services that only deal with my quality of life.
Bryan Scott is a Brentwood resident who occasionally becomes a community affairs activist. Those interested in contributing to this grass roots effort can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 925-418-4428.