Columnist Details Contra Costa Fire District Finances

In November 2010 Contra Costa Fire Chief Louder told the Board of Supervisors the district would deplete its reserves by the next fiscal year because it had used $8.7 million in reserves, deferred $4M in workers’ comp to patch its budget hole and all possible cutbacks and consolidation had occurred, leaving only personnel cuts. (Salaries and benefits accounted for more than 85% of the departments budget.) He told Supervisors that as many as 8 fire stations could close if voters rejected a parcel tax in 2011.

In June 2011 Supervisor Goia announced that the Contra Costa County Professional Firefighters Local 1220 voted to save the County $6.2 million per year by approving an amendment to their contract that would cut their salaries by 5%, waive the right to a previously negotiated 5% salary increase, extend their contract through 2014 and agree to discussion of pension benefits in summer 2012. The agreement would allow the district to maintain the same level of high service and prevent layoffs.

What happened? Why are residents again being threatened with station closures and layoffs unless we approve a parcel tax? Why is the Contra Costa County Fire Chief now stating that, without a parcel tax in November 2012, he’ll have to shut down 6 of the district’s 28 fire stations and lose 63 firefighters

Yup folks, on June 27th Chief Daryl Louder presented a report to the Contra Costa County Fire Board of Directors, aka the CCC Board of Supervisors, entitled “Report on Tiered Tax Rate Structure for a Special Tax Measure to be Placed on the November 6th Ballot“.

The Board then provided direction to the Fire Chief on the special tax provisions, including a tax amount of $75 annually, a sunset provision of seven years, and rate structure tiered by property type. July 31, 2012 was fixed as the hearing date to consider adoption of a resolution calling for a special election on 11/6/12 and adoption of a special tax ordinance to be submitted to voters on 11/6/12. (No mention was made as to inclusion of a senior citizen exemption to the parcel tax.)

As much as I value safety personnel such as firefighters and police, I’m not about to approve additional taxes which would put me in the poor house. Certainly not when they’re receiving generous pay and benefits, overtime, and a 3% at age 50 retirement package. (The County Administrator stated in April that Con Fire’s benefits cost is 103% of salary.)

Firefighters make up 40% (268 out of 645) of the Contra Costa County‘s $100,000 Pension Club, compromised of those retirees/beneficiaries of Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association (CCCERA) who are receiving pensions of $100,000 or more. In fact, Contra Costa Consolidated Fire Protection District (ConFire) firefighters fill 180 of the Club membership slots. CCCERA retirees were granted a 3% cost of living adjustment on April 1, 2012.

3 Comments to “Columnist Details Contra Costa Fire District Finances”

  1. Arne Simonsen says:

    Well done, Barbara! It really makes you wonder what happened between 2010 and now!

    Clearly it was not enough! The firefighters should be lucky that they have a job; particularly when you consider that only 3% of ConFire calls are for fires!!

    No doubt that their pay scales need to be serious adjusted downward!

  2. Jody says:

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The Fire District receives 90% of its funding from property taxes. Property assessments have gone down dramatically since 2008, which means the funding the District depends on from property taxes has taken a huge hit – $32 million since 2008. (See the Chief’s presentation here: Yes, the district and the firefighters can do more to help reduce costs. The good news is that they are committed to doing that and are entering contract negotiations next week. But we all have to share in the responsibility. The reality is that the district has lost too much funding to stay whole. Residents in the district are paying less for their fire service through property taxes, but expect (and deserve) the same level of service. Fire service is critical to our community – it saves lives. Please make sure you check your facts on this important measure. Thank you.

  3. Arne Simonsen says:

    Sorry, Jody, but our property taxes stayed the same – they did not go down. You seem to believe that everyone’s property taxes went down.

    Plus, with the elimination of redevelopment districts, that increment money is now going to the fire district and other districts that were not getting “pass-throughs” from the RDAs.

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