What Voters Should Know About Measure Q

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Measure Q is not about fire services: It’s about a failure of leadership. The Contra Costa Fire Protection District has known for many years that its spending exceeded its income. But instead of taking reasonable action to cut costs, the District continued spending, using its savings to fund daily operations. Now the District is broke and asks residents to pay more for the same service. Should residents support this new tax? Consider:

SEE REVISED CONFIRE BUDGET

Measure Q does not solve the District’s financial problems. The District’s latest budget projections (August 2012) show the District will be $11 million in the red when the tax ends seven years from now. Further, the budget in incomplete because it lacks funding for vehicle replacement and leaves NO reserves, contrary to the District’s own policy that calls for a 10% reserve to be maintained at all times.

The District and the Yes on Q campaign say that property tax collections have been down by $34 million cumulatively, over the past four years. Yet Measure Q is expected to yield $68 million over four years ($17 million annually) – an amount far in excess of the property tax decline. Why? The District needs those extra dollars for skyrocketing personnel costs, particularly for pensions.

There is a reason that Measure Q has been dubbed “The Pension Parcel Tax.” In 2002 the District increased pension benefits at significantly greater cost. Since then District pension-related costs have increased from $4.5 million to $26.2 million per year – a six-fold increase in only ten years. By 2015, pension costs are expected to rise 35%, to $35.3 million annually, with no end in sight.

SEE REVISED CONFIRE BUDGET

District retiree health care costs $7.6 million annually and continues to rise. These costs are high because firefighters can, and do, retire young (typically at age 50). In fact, studies show that life expectancy for firefighters is identical to that of other government workers.

District firefighters say they pay more towards pensions than do county workers. Yet proponents fail to mention that, unlike other workers, firefighters received raises that more than offset their increased pension contributions.

The District settled on a $75 tax after polling showed that people would vote for it. However this amount does not correspond to the District’s budget or actual costs. Relying on polls to do budgeting is a recipe for failure.

The Yes on Q campaign talks about the firefighters’ “10% pay cut.” There was a 5% pay cut and two 2.5% raises that were not granted. Most people do not consider cancelled raises equal to a “pay cut.” Former County Treasurer-Tax Collector Bill Pollacek offered additional details here.

SEE REVISED CONFIRE BUDGET

Each year the District budgets nearly $11 million for what is called “Permanent Overtime.” (in addition to regular pay of $35.6 million). Last year, out of 350 employees 188 earned $25,000 or more in overtime; and 89 employees earned $50,000 or more in overtime.

The District’s financial problems are a longstanding issue. The District’s unaffordable pensions and failure to fund vehicle replacement costs have long been documented in the annual budgets and elsewhere. A December 10, 2010 article by Contra Costa Times columnist Dan Borenstein cited the impact of the District’s rising pension costs.

When faced with all of these issues, instead of working on solving the District’s problems the District Board sent letter to the Firefighter Union Local 1230 President in July 2011, stating: “ . . . the Board will make its best efforts to place a parcel tax proposal on the ballot prior to December 2012 . . . .”

There is no reason to reward this kind of leadership failure. The District has been living beyond its means for many years, has depleted its savings and now threatens to close stations unless residents pay a new tax. Instead the District should review its methods and develop a realistic long-term plan to ensure needed services are provided at a cost the community can afford.

REVISED CONFIRE BUDGET


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Comments

  1. Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette says

    When I see stories about the amount of unfunded pension liabilities facing cities, counties, many states & the Federal Government, the numbers are staggering. I don’t believe the unfunded pensions are added to the well publicized national debt.
    Contra Costa County’s debts, rarely make the mainstream media. Lafayette’s debts, never make the mainstream media. They are redevelopment debts. The pension liabilities are shifted to the county.

  2. TaxDog says

    Mr. Editor,
    It may be time to focus on an article exclusive to the fire unions representatives cry of “Now What ?”

    I myself have read over and over articles from the union and from the news media attacking each other over this issue. The public and the media have provided endless examples of what needs to be done. The union continues to play dumb and ignores all solutions that touch upon their excessive benefits. Can an article specific to “Now What?” that solicits recommendations from the public to the Board of Supervisors who are the only final solution?

    Many solutions have been ignored by the married union and supervisors, but ideas need to be hammered into the minds of these leaders until they sink in.

    • says

      I agree and have been thinking about this very topic.

      We should hear from a variety of stakeholders including but not limited to Local 1230, Coco Tax, the Supervisors, past and/or present County Treasurer and Controllers, the County also ought to spring for a study for analysis and recommendations from an independent Big Eight agency type consultant with impeccable experience (preferably outside the political stench of California’ special interest politics in Sacramento), maybe even an insurance perspective.

      So if any of these are willing to participate, please sharpen your pencils

    • Bruce R, Peterson, Lafayette says

      That would be the 25 most informed people on this planet. This is the only site I found with information about February’s tax for the rain that falls on your roof. That sneaky tax was titled “Clean Water Fee” It failed. Now the same sneaky people, (CCC BOS) are threatening to burn down our houses, if we don’t give them more money. Some of these 25 informed people actually attend CCC BOS meetings. The rest of the planets idiots, get their news from the incredibly corrupt mainstream media.

    • says

      Actually there were another 13,000+ unique visitors this month. Quality not quantity is our aim. Thanks to all the contributors who posted great articles, and to the commenters that manage to make sense, and all the readers for another great year.

    • SR says

      Privatize Fire when the current 1230 contract expires. AMR is a private company that has to bid for the work. Why not have private fire companies bid for our safety??

      I’d rather have 30 stations staffed by Wackenhutt than 18 by 1230!!!

    • Bruce R, Peterson, Lafayette says

      Vincent Wells asks “Now what?” The voting taxpayers did not want to pay more for his product. If he was running a business, he would lower the price or go bankrupt. His agency has droves of retired people draining the budget, just like the rustbelt industries did. Many of them went bankrupt. Others received federal bailout money, just like East County Fire.
      About 50% of voters voted to bail you out Vince. Pass the hat to them for donations. Just to be safe, ask them for $300 a year.

    • FixedIncome says

      This is an expected question from one of the leaders of public employees over paid over entitlement attitudes. Just like Peterson said, Go over your costs, get with your union members and cut whatever it takes to keep the same standard of services you have been providing. That is just what all of us in the private sector have done to stay employed and pay our bills. Remember your 1230 created the majority of this problem by taking more than the share of funds available. It is time you take less and offer the same services until the funds come back. I would bet the entitlement mentality that the members have become accustomed to will over ride the actual loyalty to the citizens you swear to protect. Your job Vince is to change that mentality of your members and bring back the respect that was lost by taking advantage these past years. Think about that when you ask, Now What? It was easy to take from the public funds with the influence you and 1230 had over this county. Let’s see if you can do something good now that the public has been hit with hard times. Are your union members in it for the money or for the love of the job? We will see by your actions Vince.

    • Vincent Wells says

      Fixedincome,

      We have been the ones open an honest and who have come forward to help the situation. We cut many programs and eliminated 6 million dollars worth of expendiures in 2008-2009. We deferred raises that amounted to 3 million dollars of savings per year, 4 years x 3 equals 12 million. Then we took 5% pay cuts and lower starting wages which is an additional 3 million plus a year in payroll, and also impacts retirement costs.
      We lost 32 million in revenue that no one wants to acknowledge. As the leader who has had to convince myself and membership to give up an over 10% cut in pay, only to have you and others continue to ask for more and minimize these efforts ( they all said you would). I appreciate the suggestion. We are on the bottom of the firefighter pay scale and don’t believe we are overpaid. Our concessions have made up for over half of the lost revenue since the housing market crash. Many members of the public ( who are our members as well) have seen significant reductions in their property taxes collected (much more than 75.00s). Measure Q asked for some of it back to the district.
      The dilemma I have found us firefighters in during these troubling times,is that we have never bragged or advertised about the services we provide or the “stats” we produced ( I believe a fire fighter is worth more than Barry Zito when you compare lives and property saved to ERAs and Strike outs). When asked about a specific call or emergency we were involved with that has a successful impact, our normal response has been ” ma’am, I was just doing my job”. If we do bring up the fact that our job is to respond to people on the worse days of their lives or talk about the kids or lives we have saved, then we are told we are exploiting our jobs. It is a foul if we bring up 9/11, Katrina, the Oklahoma City bombing, earthquakes, the Oakland Hills fire and any other major incident in which we showed our worth to a community. I am not sure what the best approach is at this point. Bowing down to the redicule that has been abundant on this site is no longer an option for me. What should we do politically? Allow folks to be criticized and called lazy, greedy firefighters, who all they do is wash fire engines, sleep, watch TV, or spend time shopping at Safeway for dinner; or should we develop stat sheets or something similar to baseball cards that show the lives or property saved.
      At this point, In Contra Costa County, I think the “mob” has got the suspect cornered. Maybe after the linching, the facts will come out and people will realize they were going after the wrong suspect. I have plenty of facts to support our efforts to do the right thing in this situation, and have plenty of data to explain our worth. I have a few significant stats myself if we chose to put together hero cards.
      When I asked “what now” on this blog site, I did not mean to come across as someone who was pleading to anyone on this blog for support. I was actually asking for suggestions that were meaniful and useful.
      The fire district is a special district that receives money from 1% of a portion of your property taxes, split among other districts. It is not a for profit business and has no legal service requirement obligation, for those of you who keep comparing the department to a business. With this fact, how could it go bankrupt when all they have to do is reduce expenditures? They have no debt that cannot be paid by reducing services or personnel. The district is not a city department. All fire service levels are recommended based on industry standards. The District can go from 30 fire stations to 20 without any need or ability to go bankrupt. They can always reduce expenditures to meet the revenue received. This is why it has always been us firefighters who fight for staffing and to keep stations open.
      In the cases of East Contra Costa County Fire District (Measure S) and now Contra Costa County Fire Protection District ( Measure Q), we firefighters took the lead and fought to keep our fire stations and staffing levels up. We felt that it would be a crime to lower the level of public safety for a community without asking them first.
      As Kris Hunt and the Times has stated over and over again, “the public has spoken” We need to live within our means.
      As for me, many have apologized to me for its failure as though I have been personally harmed. First of all my term as President ends next October unless I decide to run again and win. I am a Fire Captain for the District and am well up in seniority. The real reason, I beleived in taking this to voter is as a Veteran I have fought for the right. I have children and relatives that are Veterans as well and who are currently serving in the military. Public Safety is a public right. If it is diminished or taken away, every citizen should have their say prior to that right being taken away. Unfortunately, in California, it isn’t the “Majority Rules” when it comes to public safety. That is a shame!
      We will continue to work with the Fire District and the Board of Supervisors to provide the best fire and emergency services we can! I am at Martinez Fire Station # 13 on the C Shift in Battalion 2. Call me, you know the number. I will get there as soon as I can!

    • I support Fire says

      Vince, as a resident of our county I support the Fire District. I wish 2/3 of the people felt the same. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get property owners to pay $6.25 per month to keep all stations open. Particularly sad when the SF Giants had no problem selling $300 tickets & $50 tee shirts for the World Series.