Antioch council votes unanimously to back fire tax
By James Ott
United Professional Fire Fighters of Contra Costa County President Vince Wells came to the city council meeting on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 asking them to support Measure Q – a proposed parcel tax for residents within the Contra Costa Fire Protection District. The council voted unanimously to endorse the tax.
Measure Q seeks to help raise money for the firefighter’s district that has lost about $32 million since the 2008 housing market collapse, according to Wells.
If approved, Measure Q will levy a $75 parcel tax per year for owners of single-family homes. It would cost apartment owners $37.50 per unit and any commercial or industrial landowners would need to plunk down $300 per acre, or $75 per quarter-acre. And agricultural or vacant property owners would pay $37.50 per parcel.
The proposed tax would take effect from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2020 and is estimated to create $16.8 million a year for the county fire district.
Measure Q will need a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass.
There are 28 fire stations in the Contra Costa Fire Protection District and four of those are in Antioch. Wells said that the lack of money is forcing the fire district to close up to10 fire stations in the next two years, with the first closure coming as soon as January, 2013.
As for now, it isn’t known if any fire stations in Antioch are scheduled to be shuttered. Those that are scheduled to close will be notified in December.
Wells also said that lack of funding has cost the district 81 firefighters. Those that remain have taken a 10 percent pay cut and have also made concession to their benefits and pensions.
“I personally pay 26 percent of my paycheck toward my pension every month,” said Wells.
Like fireman Vince Wells, proponents of Measure Q say that the money is sorely needed, even in the rough economic times. Supporters point out that Contra Costa Fire Protection District is among the 14 largest metropolitan fire agencies in the state and they say that without additional money, response times to fires and other emergencies could be impacted.
Most people would only pay the $75-per-year parcel tax which adds up to only $1.44 a week.
Opponents of the measure such as “Halfway to Concord” Editor Bill Gram-Reefer accused Supervisors and union leaders of ignoring serious pension reform and restructuring that could have saved money without having to take from taxpayers.
Contra Costa Taxpayers Association President Kris Hunt said that the fire district has lived beyond its means for too long and thinks Measure Q is only a temporary fix.
And the Contra Costa Times editorial board went so far as to call the measure “political blackmail” for the district’s plan to close almost two-thirds of it’s fire stations if the voters don’t pass it.
It is worth noting that on the June 5, 2012 ballot, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District proposed a similar parcel tax called Measure S. The $197-a-year tax proposal was soundly defeated when 56.2% of voters rejected it.