Finding best solution to ECCFPD fire district funding crisis


The fire district funding crisis in East Contra Costa County has been well-documented, most recently in Contra Costa Grand Jury Report 1706, issued on June 9.

Also, a task force of government and firefighter union employees documented the inadequate funding level of East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) in the fall of 2015.

Subsequently a community-based committee arrived on scene, and has been advocating for better funding for more than 18 months. A stakeholder workshop was held, with 22 tax-receiving government entities invited to attend. Dozens and dozens of group and individual meetings were held, all to find a universally acceptable funding solution to the structural funding problem that plagues the fire district.

Research in 2016 found that ECCFPD received $106 per resident to provide fire and emergency medical services for East County while fire districts in central parts of the county received $349 and $366 per resident, to provide the same services. ECCFPD has the lowest funding allocation rate of any fire district in the county.

California Assembly Member Jim Frazier termed the situation “a public safety emergency.” He introduced a law, Assembly Bill 898, to reallocate $10.5 million of property tax funds to the fire district. However, that bill has been withdrawn from committee discussion because of lack of support, primarily, it seems, due to the source of the reallocated funds.

The roots of this problem go back to the laws implementing Proposition 13, but not Prop 13 itself. There is no adjustment mechanism built into the implementation laws that allows rate adjustments when dramatic shifts in population, as East Contra Costa County has experienced, occur.

Listed below are five potential ways the legislature could reallocate property tax funds to solve fire district’s problem. There may be others as well.

Option 1: All entities in the county except schools and county fire districts. In this method entities receiving property tax funds would shift 0.3566 percent of the growth in funding, not current funding, to the fire district for four years, a total of 1.4264 percent.

Option 2: The cities of Brentwood and Oakley and the county. In this case these three entities would shift 0.8885 percent of their property tax funding to the fire district in each of four years, a total of 3.5540 percent.

Option 3: All independent fire districts except ECCFPD. Using this method each of the six other fire districts would reallocate 1.7192 percent of their property tax funding in each of four years to ECCFPD, a total of 4.9115 percent.

Option 4: All entities within the ECCFPD service area except ECCFPD. In this case local property tax funded entities, including the schools, would transfer 1.9648 percent for each of four years, for a total of 7.8592 percent. Including schools would require that their funds be replaced by the State.

Option 5: All entities within the ECCFPD service area except the schools and ECCFPD. This is the most severe option, requiring those entities receiving property tax funds to reallocate 5.6699 percent each year, a total of 22.6799percent.

While each of these options is possible, with enough legislative skill, Option 1 has the least impact on government agencies. The numbers speak for themselves: just over one-third of a percent of future property tax funding is transferred to the fire district, and the ECCFPD structural funding problem is resolved.

Each year’s increase in property tax funding for government agencies is expected to be in the 4 percent to  6 percent range. This means that if funding grew by 5 percent in a year, an agency would instead receive 4.6434 percent in new funds, with 0.3566 percent of this new funding amount going to the fire district.

Problem solved!
And it is important to remember that when California set up the current property tax distribution program the legislature was dealing with the county as a whole. They set up a method to allocate all county property tax funds to where they were needed most.

And this is what needs to be done now.

Bryan Scott is a Brentwood resident and Co-Chair of East County Voters for Equal Protection, a non-partisan citizens action committee whose aim is to improve funding for the ECCFPD. He can be reached at scott.bryan@comcast.net, or 925-418-4428. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/.



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