Monday, March 2, 2015
CONTACT: Hugh Henderson, Fire Chief East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (925) 240-2131
East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board Votes to Seek Property Owner Authorization of Fire Suppression Assessment
OAKLEY—The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Board of Directors voted Monday to seek property owner authorization of a Fire Suppression Assessment that will provide locally controlled funding to prevent further service reductions, permanent station closures and firefighter lay-offs.
“Last year’s was among the hottest, driest and worst fire seasons on record, and the December rains could result in a heavier grass crop in 2015 that may lead to more grass fires in the spring and summer of 2015,” said Fire Chief Hugh Henderson. “Even with a dangerous fire season looming, local revenue for fire and emergency response services is far below pre-recession levels. New delays in response to 9-1-1 emergencies and closed fire stations would compromise public safety.”
Because brush and house fires can double in size every 30 seconds, if potential new service reductions are enacted, firefighters may need to shift their emphasis from saving a home on fire to protecting neighboring houses from a spreading fire. The District’s ability to respond to multiple emergencies at the same time would be especially hampered.
Ballots will be mailed no later than Friday, March 13, arriving the following week in a light green envelope. They are due back by Monday, April 27, when a public hearing will be held and ballots will be tallied to determine the Board’s authority to enact a fire protection and response assessment that will provide stable, locally controlled revenue that cannot be taken away by the state or other agencies.
Assessment ballots issued last summer were not counted as that balloting process was cancelled due to incomplete data, and no assessment was enacted. The new ballot process replaces the process initiated last summer and reflects updated fire protection data for many parcels in the East County area. The updated data reduces the proposed assessments for most East County properties when compared to the assessment considered last summer. Property owners wishing to participate in the balloting process must fill out and return their new ballots this spring, even if they already cast a ballot last summer.
“To ensure complete accuracy in developing the new assessment, the District recently updated a variety of its data sources, including those providing information on fire hydrant locations in newly developed areas,” Henderson said. “This data is important for a potential assessment because proximity to fire hydrants is one of many criteria used by engineers to determine the special benefit created for a specific property as a result of improved fire service, which determines the appropriate level of the assessment for each property.”
If the benefit assessment is authorized by a majority of property owners and enacted by the District’s Board of Directors, the assessment will fund the cost of keeping five stations open for five years, rather than the three stations that can be funded by current and projected District revenues. This would allow Station 54 in Brentwood to reopen. The station was closed temporarily September 1, 2014.
District revenues, which are heavily dependent on property taxes, decreased 40 percent due to the recession and housing crisis. Significant budget cuts, including salary freezes and increased payroll contributions for pensions, were made.
If the fire suppression assessment is rejected by property owners or the Board of Directors, the District will likely make the Brentwood station closure permanent and be required to close an additional station. Operational changes to call responses and protocols will need to be implemented if the District returns to the three-station model.
ABOUT THE EAST CONTRA COSTA FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT: The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District spans 249 square miles and our firefighter/EMTs serve more than 100,000 residents in the Cities of Brentwood and Oakley, the Town of Discovery Bay, the communities of Byron, Bethel Island and Knightsen, the Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory area, and all other areas within unincorporated Contra Costa County to the east of Antioch and to the southeast of Clayton.