What Voters Should Know About Measure Q

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.

  3. Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

    CoCoTAX never spends a dime on ads or campaigning. And we always tell the truth unlike someone who hides behind a phony name.

    The truth is that there has been little support for your Measure Q. If it were popular, most cities and public officials would have jumped in and the revenue would have flowed. It does not seem to be the case since mailers have not poured into mailboxes.

    The Truth is that this measure does not solve the problem. It is not really for $75 since that tax amount leaves the district broke AND with unfunded liabilities. Oh, and let’s now add the huge shortfall of funding for replacment trucks. You need to look at the budget provided by the Chief. That provides all the truth anyone needs to know.

  4. The Truth says

    The Truth is that Kris Hunt, Wendy Lack, and CoCo Tax represent the BIG OIL Refineries and Chemical Plants, along with the Big Businesses (insurance Companies) that could care less about the small tax payer. Do you think the Oil Companies cared when they jacked Gas Prices into the statosphere? BGR, Kris, And Wendy will not dispute that CoCo Tax is well funded by BIG OIL, and that their mission as COCO Tax is to protect the interests of the BIG Businesses, they could give two rips about the little guy. The Insurance Companies that they represent stand to make HUGE Profits when this measure fails, and yes it will fail. Then their buddies at State Farm, Farmers, AAA, Allstate, can make Billions in profits from the new lower tier insurance ratings, as the Insured get raked over the coals to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year. Think about it, why would the No on Q (Coco Tax)be placing ads everywhere including Claycord, if they weren’t well funded?

    • Pete says

      The Truth is that CoCo Tax does not fund or contribute to any political ad campaigns. To my knowledge there isn’t a single insurance company that is a corporate member.

      Though a significant portion of the associations operating budget is contributed by energy companies, CoCo Tax often takes positions contrary to the positions taken by its member companies.

      All businesses, big and small, care about the consumer (“little guy” or “small taxpayer”) as every dollar of tax that is extracted by government is a dollar less of disposable income that the taxpayer has to purchase goods and services.

    • Bruce R. Peterson Lafayette says

      This is funny. I keep seeing Yes on Q signs. I wish Big Oil & Big property owners would give me money for opposing taxes.
      In two decades of opposing parcel taxes, I have not received a penny. I would not accept money anyway. It’s nearly impossible to compete with the fundraising of pro tax politicians.
      Watch this person called “The Truth” blast me with the few exceptions.

    • says

      How does measure Q relate to Chevron profits? Your desparate and ill-informed grasping at straws does not compute!

  5. Beaver says

    Easy for you to say “vote no” Voter 26, you don’t even live in the area covered by the fire district.

  6. Voter26 says

    I think that because the union who are the firefighters is going to sue and cost taxpayers many thousands of dollars and may even overturn the vote on pension, everyone for sure now needs to Vote NO on Q more than ever.

  7. Brain says

    What Wendy left out of this story is that one of the CCCERA Board Members, is an actual sitting BC with Con Fire and he voted to uphold the legislation. CCCFPD wants pension reform as much as everyone else. The district is limited to what can be done under the law. Now that the Pension issue has been settled, lets move on and Vote Yes on Measure Q.

  8. Wendy Lack says

    Two CCCERA Board members apparently think state law doesn’t apply to Contra Costa. Today Directors Cabral and Telles voted against complying with new state pension rules. Go figure.

    Read about it in this Contra Costa Times story about today’s CCCERA Board meeting:

    http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21891329/contra-costa-pension-board-follow-state-law-but

    This development illustrates the public employee union militancy that has made the public completely fed up with state and local government. Once again taxpayers will be required to foot the bill for legal expenses, to defend one more lawsuit brought by public employee unions against a public agency (CCCERA).

    These types of hijinks are why I expect CA’s Prop 30 will fail next week. My sense is that voter gullibility is on the decline these days.

  9. Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

    Jane, look at the source of my research. That is the Chief’s updated budget projections. It is on the ConFire website. Maybe you should read it. I don’t make up numbers, I source them.

  10. Wendy Lack says

    “Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools will learn in no other.”
    ~BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Poor Richard’s Almanac

  11. Jane Q Citizen says

    Gee Kris because you represent yourself a being the supreme investigator/proctor of the tax payer which is absolute crap….if you were you would take info you have been handed and run with it instead of constantly attacking workers who by the way are also tax payers……………..I bet you will at the retirement board Tuesday so you can champion the raping of workers retirement when you don’t have all the facts……..that is how you operate……….Your group could give a crap about the little worker. We know you represent only the old fat farts of Rossmoor, Lafayette, Orinda etc………..not all taxpayers of CC County…..Like I said County/Ciyty/Fire Dist workers are taxpayers too and you sure don’t represent any of us. Part of the issue is wanna be self important people like you going after the working class…..maybe is you had to struggle like us you would have a clue……..but you don’t.
    And as for Ms Lack she is a complete hipocrite.

    • says

      Jane, you mistakenly equate “working class” with gubbermint employees that think the world owes them a living. You must think real working people who have had to cut back at least 25% look kindly upon your grasping for more job security, cushier work rules, better unmatched pay (when compared to workers in private sector), and even sweeter pensions and health care while taking more taxes out of their pockets to pay for it. In Realityland, you and your ilk are the pariah of the working class, not Kris Hunt or Wendy Lack.

    • Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

      Jane apparently has no idea what real people earn or what they have to retire on.

      Jane, if you had been at the Board of Supervisors meeting on the day the $20 Water “fee” was put on the ballot you would have seen an older woman who drove all the way into Martinez with her property tax bill in hand. She pointed to all the taxes and fees that were going up but her pension was not. She is a real taxpayer and she is suffering.

      Jane, you may not be aware that the U-6 (unemployment and underemployment) rate for California is 20.3%. Ask those people who are eroding their pension savings to live how they feel about measures like Q.

      The District is going to have to learn to live within its means.

    • Voter says

      Jane Q Citizen……says;
      “Your group could give a crap about the little worker”

      Here is your little firefighter worker in 2008 gross pay;
      $208,273.23, $206,263.89, $204,129.19, $202,405.78, $201,670.38, $198,742.68, $196,300.85

      Here is your little firefighter worker in 2011 gross pay;
      $492,017, $435,422, $393,332, $368,861, $358,563, $346,127

      These are the top payouts for the ” little worker”
      This is not the working class Jane Q. This is the reason we need to stop sending more tax money.

    • Beaver says

      nice of you Voter, aka- Voter26, Voter 8026, to list the salaries of some fat cat fire chief and try to play it off as that of a fireman that makes much less than 300 -400K, please give us all a break, total hyperbole and “Scare Tactics.” Most firefighters make less than 100K, then take out 25% for pension payments, medical benefit costs, taxes, and they make far less than 50K.

    • says

      Oh so now you include taxes. Everything you list every working famly has to pay, and the vast majority start at much less than a starting salary of $100k, but more like $60, $40, or less, if lucky to still have a job, let alone one guaranteed for life. And they dont have County Supervisors in their pockets to give them a raise so they can pay more for their IRAs like the county gave the local 1230 members. And they dont have a corrupt county government behind them that promises over a year ago to backfill that spending with a new tax (measure q).

      Really. Your self serving arguments for stealing from battered taxpayers have become a parody.

  12. rich eber says

    Kris Hunt’s complete and exhaustive presentation on Measure Q saves me from writing a column of why voters should reject this
    extorsion scheme to have tax payers bail out poor planning and personel policies that have placed the Fire District in hopeless debt.

    Were the Fire District to fix the problems that Kris brought up, I would be willing to revisit this parcel tax proposal at a later election. However, “feeding the beast” and passing Measure Q would be a disservice to tax payers who deserve better.

    Rejecting Proposition Q would be an appropriate 911 message to
    local and state politicans alike who rely on the gullability of voters
    to further their “tax and spend” policies.

  13. Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

    “Jane” why not stick to a discussion of the item that is actually on the ballot.

  14. Jane Q Citizen says

    Wendy Lack – didn’t you retire from the City of Walnut Creek and are you not colecting a nice pension courtesy of the tax payers??? And Kris Hunt how many times have County employees give you info about wasted tax dollars and yet yo have not looked at nothing. I know of at LEAST 4 incidents where this happened and………..nothing……….hmmmmmmmmmm. And Kris you may want to ask why the County spends soooooo much on translating everything into Spanish and why they spend millions on service to illegal invaders. I know that will never happen

    • says

      Jane you’ll need to be more specific instead of swinging innuendo around your head like a lasso on fire. As for Ms. Lack’s pension, why does it matter to you when she had no hand in the plan specifics. Would you howl as loud if it was a family member retired from the military?

  15. Johnnie Ballgame says

    Firefighters “gamed the system” and deserve 100% of the blame. They also deserve my opinion expressed by sign language.

  16. Johnnie Ballgame says

    Don’t blame the firefighters? Firefighters demanded the immoral compensation. Firefighters bought the politicians who approved the immoral compensation. Wake up.

    • Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

      It is still the responsibility of the board and those who elect them (us) who bear the responsibility for these bad decisions.

      Check out the fire board for San Ramon Fire District. It will be comprised of firefighters from other districts OR relatives of firefighters. Sad.

  17. John says

    @ Johnnie Ballgame, I hear you but it’s our fault (the public) for putting these guys on too high of a pedestal after 911. They will take until there is no more and try to take even after that. We spoiled them. Our kids will be paying for our over generous compensation packages because of our mistakes. Hopefully the public will send a message that enough is enough and that sanity and prudence need to the norm for fire budgets from now on. They have plenty of our tax dollars to spend. They do not need any more. What they need is to learn how to correctly spend what they have without borrowing away our children’s future. No on Q, Yes on 32

  18. Johnnie Ballgame says

    I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to laugh at laid off firefighters. Currently, I have to settle for giving them a message in sign language when I see them.

  19. Wendy Lack says

    In selling the need for Measure Q, ConFire Chief Louder touts the Governor’s pension reform legislation (Public Employee’s Pension Reform Act of 2013, aka “PEPRA”) as an important boost to the District’s budget. The facts prove otherwise.

    Savings from new hires won’t be realized for decades. More importantly, unfunded liabilities for current employees’ pension and OPEB benefits are left untouched by the new law. Plus the District’s outstanding pension obligation bond debt continues to strain its budget.

    There’s no getting around the fact that pension costs are driving the District towards bankruptcy — and PEPRA’s reforms are too little, too late.

    Check this out: John Dickerson of YourPublicMoney.com has just posted his thorough analysis of PEPRA — including discussion of its limitations — at:

    http://yourpublicmoney.com/index.shtml

    • Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

      The Governor’s pension reform will not have a sizeable impact for 10 to 20 years. It ignores the enormous unfunded liabilities. In addition, the benefit reductions only apply to those newly hired to California pension system. Because of reciprocal agreements, this means only brand new firefighters, (not just newly hired to ConFire) would be under the new benefits.