Tuesday, June 27, 2017

[Contra Costa County] Grand jury report outlines path to East County fire funding

BRENTWOOD — A Contra Costa civil grand jury has found that no community in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District meets national response time standards.
The civil grand jury issued its 12-page report in early June after studying financial reports, a prior 2012 grand jury report on the same topic, and a number of other reports on the district’s money woes over the years. The report also outlines a path and recommendations for funding the district.
The strongest finding in the report is that closing five of the district’s eight fire stations has slowed down response times and that this leads to a higher chance of death, injury and property damage.
According to the report, the district had 6,785 calls for service in 2016 with an average response time of 8:03 minutes. The national standard for response times is 5 to 6 minutes.
Response times varied significantly among the cities and towns. While Oakley had an average response time of 7:05 minutes for a call, Bethel Island’s average response time was 14:24 minutes.
The report went on to look at the financials of the district and how the district receives the lowest share of property taxes of any fire district in the county, as well as how cutting costs and closing five fire stations led to long term debt in the form of retirement expenses.
With all the woes laid out before them, the grand jury went on to find ways the district could pull itself back together.
The fire district board of directors could keep putting tax measures on the ballot, but voters have shot down three tax measures in four years.
The district should support legislation to reallocate property tax revenues from another agency in the county. Two bills submitted by Assemblymember Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, would do just that. One would reallocate money from the East Bay Regional Parks system, and another is a placeholder bill for an election-based solution.
Voluntary reallocation was proposed, but in February, six school district administrators from Antioch, Brentwood, Knightsen, Byron, Oakley and Liberty Union signed a letter stating that they would not do so.
Four recommendations were for cities and counties to adopt policies that require all developers to pay impact fees for the fire services their developments are projected to use as well as community facility districts for the ongoing support of those fire services.
Currently, there is only one community facilities district — the Summer Lakes homes in the Cypress Development — that provides funding to the fire district. The Cypress CFD, which was established in unincorporated Contra Costa County in 2004, contributed $162,370 in fiscal year 2015/2016. For the 616 houses there, this amounts to a little over $260 a year.
Supervisor Diane Burgis’ office said that they would like to see more developer fees and community facility districts and will be working with county staff to review the county’s ordinances.
June 25, 2017
East Bay Times
By Aaron Davis

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