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Contra Costa Fire District Banks on Measure Q

Fire officials say that the $75 annual parcel tax would help prevent fire station closures in a 304 square mile area that includes Concord. Measure Q needs two-thirds approval to pass on Nov. 6.

From Bay City News:

Voters in the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District are weighing a seven-year parcel tax that fire officials say is needed to prevent station closures.

Measure Q would establish a $75 annual parcel tax for each single-family home and per quarter-acre of business space within the district. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass.

The district spans 304 square miles in Antioch, Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek and a handful of unincorporated communities.

Revenues from the tax would pay for fire protection, prevention and emergency services including equipment, personnel costs and capital improvements. The tax would take effect on July 1, 2013.

Contra Costa fire officials say Measure Q's passage is critical in preventing station closures in the financially strapped district.

Voters in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District rejected a similar measure in June, leading that district to shutter three stations and lay off 15 firefighters. The district plans to reopen the stations and re-hire staff later this year after receiving a $7.8 million federal grant.

Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Marshal Lewis Broschard said his district is struggling to stay afloat.

"We have serious concerns about the ability to provide adequate protection and emergency medical services when we're already at 44 percent of fire industry standards," he said.

Since the district is funded mainly by property taxes, plummeting property values and reduced property tax income have hit the district especially hard, he said.

In response to recent budget shortfalls, the district has cut numerous positions, laid off personnel and cut firefighters' salaries by 10 percent, Broschard said.

New hires face an additional 10 percent salary cut and are required to contribute more to their pensions, he said.

"We've cut down to the bone to try and continue providing services while reducing the cost," Broschard said.

Still, it's not enough to continue funding the district's services at their current level, at which 85 firefighters are on duty daily at 28 fire stations, according to fire officials.

Broschard said that without the estimated $17 million that would be generated by Measure Q, critical prevention services that keep the rate of fires down district-wide would be cut.

Even more worrisome, he said, is that without fully staffed fire stations, some residents would have to wait longer for responders to arrive. And in medical emergencies, every minute counts, Broschard said.

Since January, the district has been the first responder in 16 cardiac arrest cases in which the patients were not breathing when fire personnel arrived, according to the fire marshal.

"Those 16 people are alive today because the fire engine was the closest resource to their medical emergency, that fire engine got there in time ... and they walked away from the hospital days later because of it," Broschard said. "Waiting for ambulances that are eight to 10 minutes away, we don't have those success stories."

The measure has drawn some opposition, including from Supervisor Candace Andersen and Contra Costa Taxpayers Association President Kris Hunt.

Opponents argue that the measure is only a temporary budget fix, and that the district's money woes would be less severe if fire officials had agreed to rein in costly pensions and other personnel costs.

Hunt, who wrote the ballot argument against Measure Q, argues that the district has long lived beyond its means and that a "no" vote would equal a demand that the fire district "fix pensions first before asking taxpayers to pay more."

She noted that the district's retirement costs take up about a quarter of its $100 million budget this fiscal year. The district this year has allocated $7.6 million for retiree health care alone, and is paying about $26 million in total pension-related costs. And that's not counting the $11 million the district allocates for overtime pay, she added.

"You don't see anything like that in the private sector now -- it's excessive, and we just can't afford that," Hunt said.

She argues that the district has repeatedly forgone the tough decisions needed to balance its budget, opting instead to spend its savings on unsustainable personnel costs. Hunt said that if Measure Q passes, she expects the fire district to ask for an extension of the property tax once it is due to expire.

"This doesn't solve the problem," she said. "At the end of the seven years, they're going to be in the hole again."

Broschard insists that he and other fire officials expect the district to be in the black well after the tax's 2020 expiration date without an extension.

He also said that the district was in the process of negotiating pensions with its largest union when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Public Employee Pension Reform Act, which requires state employees to pay at least half of their pension costs.

Do you support Measure Q? Why/Why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

HeresWhereMyNameGoes October 19, 2012 at 08:34 AM
Another tax that'll never happen. No way this will get a majority vote.
c5 October 19, 2012 at 01:12 PM
i'm voting against this, hope you are right...but the naivety of california voters about how to fix long term spending problems never ceases to amaze me.
JPC October 19, 2012 at 02:58 PM
For those of you against the tax measure because you think Firefighters get paid too much, and have too high of pensions maybe you should ask yourselves the question of whether you would jump out of bed at all hours of the night to save some strangers life or put your own in jeopardy to save their home? You should all read the attached article of two local firefighters who will be honored today in Sacramento for giving the ultimate sacrifice their lives. They both passed away from duty related cancers! Yes, their pensions are higher than the private sector, but unfortunately lots of them don't even get to enjoy retirement due to job related injuries and illness. This tax does not only provide the support they need, but it benefits all of you, your family, & your property. http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_21803000/east-bay-firefighters-be-honored-sacramento-annual-firefighters
BuyLocalByCity.com October 19, 2012 at 05:15 PM
This is such BS. You can thank our elected officials for doing what Politian’s do best taking money already designated for a specific purpose and giving it away for more social programs for those who CHOSE not to work. “Land of the FREE” mentality leaving a financial black hole for the taxpayers to fill again and again and again. Wake up! I’m not voting in 1 new increase tax of any kind and I’m voting out “all” INCUMBENTS. This is the only way to send a message that we are tired of this crap. ONE TERM is all they get to turn things around or they’re out. Period. Hold their feet to the fire and see how fast things can change? The City, The County, The State and the Country do not have an income problem they only have a spending problem. This ain’t rocket science people it’s Economics 101 the same class that can fix any household. Live within your means!!! Einstein said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” I am a huge supporter and passionate about our emergency responders and respect none more, but they and the schools are being used by Politian’s to get us to fork up more of OUR hard earned money to pay for their giveaways and entitlement programs to buy votes. Just one person’s opinion. I’m sick of it. How is it working for you???
sean October 19, 2012 at 10:56 PM
No way no how! Enough of the pulling the heart strings on Children and Safety, do your jobs, run you fat out of your managemant and stop asking me for more money!
sean October 19, 2012 at 11:03 PM
NO way! No How! Enough of you union hacks pulling on the purse strings of everyones emotions? "IT'S for SAFETY" B.S.,,,,,,,,,ITs for your jobs, your elected careers that you get to retire at 50? When are you gonna get it, we are broke! I am broke! There are five issues that want more money just in this election? ENOUGH! Run you system like a business, cut the fat, cut the wants and keep the real needs...NEW STATIONS WITH FANCY PALM TREES IN OAKLEY ARE BS
sean October 20, 2012 at 02:11 AM
100% agree, well stated!
Marshall Cochrane October 20, 2012 at 03:43 AM
I dug up this article from the Contra Costa Times: Fire districts suffering because of redevelopment agencies By Rick Radin Contra Costa Times "The redevelopment areas, some decades old, allow cities and the county to siphon off taxes that would otherwise go to the Contra Costa Fire District and other public agencies. As a result, the fire district lost nearly $12 million in revenue during the 2009-10 fiscal year, the report says. Pittsburgh’s redevelopment agency was responsible for nearly one-third of that total." Cities that had Redevelopment agencies: Antioch, Concord, Lafayette, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill & Walnut Creek. I don’t know about Clayton but I know that Martinez, thank goodness, did not have a redevelopment agency and did not divert tax dollars from the fire protection agencies….I suggest that those cities that caused the problem should generate the solution or suffer the penalties…Martinez should be exempted from a parcel tax and suffer no reduction of fire protection status.
erniep747@aol.com October 20, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Firefighters are the laziest bums along with police men, sheriffs, jailers and should not get paid more than $ 15,- a hour. After 6 months training they cost the taxpayer $ 100,000,-. a year to start, when I learned my trade it took me 4 years and 5 hours night school a week to become a journey man. I worked until 65 and get a lousy pension while they retire with 50 get a higher pension than their last paycheck and than go moon lightening. Or work at another government job and collect pay and another pension later. Yes you have to be an idiot with a low IQ to qualify for a job like that and you have it made. This whole system of how these people get paid should be eliminated. In no other country in the world these people get paid up to 5 times more than here under worst conditions. Let the bums look for a job somewhere else if they do not like it.
sean October 20, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I grew up in the City with all the Fire and Police guys, every fireman I know has another career, butcher,contractor,plumber,electrician,limo driver...They make 50 plus in those gigs and soak the Fire Dept gig....Then retire early and continue their other jobs? I could care less but do it on your dollar not mine.. As far as the "DANGER" of the job, you signed up ? Electricians,Commercial Fisherman,Steel Workers are just a few other professions that statistically have more deaths annually? NEVER HEAR THEM WHINING? Cops, what a joke...Get a cushy pension at 50 plus, go out with your BLUE INJURIES to run up your monthy calculation? I have two good buddies who have done that? I respect both for what they are intended for, but not the scam they have put on my paycheck?
morning glory October 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Well said BuyLocalByCity - I wish there were more people like you -
Night Watch October 21, 2012 at 08:02 AM
Don't be foolish! Is your home worth $75 a year more or can you pay for a new one if it burns down! We've had 6 fires near, by and around where we live! It is horrifying! If not for the hero fire fighters we would have been dead after the first one!
G. Wilson October 21, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Soldiers make a fraction of what firefighters make and are at higher risk for injury or death. The 10% pay cut touted by the firefighters is misleading. They waived two 2.5% raises and then took two 2.5% cuts this year. So their pay has only gone down 5%. Firefighter does not even make the top 10 list of dangerous jobs, but roofer, pilot and police officer do!
G. Wilson October 21, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Typical scare tactic. Is a firefighting job worth $60,000 a year, how about $70,000? No one is disputing the need for fire protection but at what cost. I think an average salary of $150,000 is a bit excessive. Many places around the country pay $50,000 to $80,000 a year for a firefighter.
G. Wilson October 21, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Vote no!
Night Watch October 22, 2012 at 02:55 AM
WHILE EVERY ONE ARGUES ABOUT MONEY, THE FIRES KEEP BURNING! So fight your own fires then. I need help from them.
Claire October 22, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Well, then maybe we should be paying them $500,000 a year! why not more? I went to the presentation last year by the chief asking for support for this parcel tax to pass, and I have rarely seen a more arrogant, inflexible point of view. Because of union rules, for example, we cannot separate the need for a fully staffed truck to be sent out with every medical call. What? Why can't we change those rules to make the system more efficient? Most 911 calls to the fire department are for ambulance services, not fires. And has been pointed out here, as much as we all see firefighters as heroes, many other jobs in fact have higher injury and death rates. The greed of the firefighters' union and their inflexibility on pension reform means I vote NO on the parcel tax.
Chris J Kapsalis October 22, 2012 at 03:59 AM
No more parcel taxes PLEASE. Try a sin tax if you want more money.. State wide. A buck a pack of cigs, a buck a 6 pack of beer, a buck on a bottle of wine, a buck on a bottle of hard alcohol, fast food? Donuts? You want to add a burden to people who already are losing their homes left and right? Barely making ends meet. We need a home. We do not need alcohol and cigarettes and junk food..
c5 October 22, 2012 at 02:07 PM
and if you are right in changing behavior, the tax won't raise the necessary amount of money. that's the funny thing about raising taxes, it tends to incent people to find legal ways to avoid the impact...
Chris Nicholson October 22, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Fisherman make less that soldiers and, other than field soldiers in wartime, fisherman have a higher rate of involuntary death on the job. The risks the firefighters face are real, but do not justify unlimited compensation.
Chris Heston November 04, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Ernie you should have tried to become a police officer instead of a Journeyman, then you could have had the good life! Why didn't apply? Or did you and couldn't get hired? Maybe you couldn't impress them with your physical conditioning, interview skills, psychologically sound mind? Or maybe you had a criminal record or wouldn't have passed the polygraph test? Maybe your neighbors would have said bad things during the background investigation? The academy would have been a breeze for you I'm sure. Being yelled at and told what to do would have been easy for someone like you. Did you work the midnight shift for the first 5 years of your Journeyman job? Did you spend your days off in court? Did you get physically attacked and verbally abused daily for your whole career? And were you required to sit back and take it instead of responding angrily? It's never too late. Pay your way through an academy and apply. You can show them all how it's done - and then fight for the wage reduction to $15 an hour. Good luck!
Cooper Hall November 05, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Ann Coulter says we should be nice to you.
Steve Cohn November 05, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I am not going to opine on whether you should or should not vote for this tax (I don't live in Lafayette so it does not apply to me) but if you want to see what firefighters actually get paid (including the cost of benefits), see the Orinda Task Force report on MOFD (with about the same compensation as ConFire). http://orindataskforce.org/tables - look at Table IV-3

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