MARTINEZ -- Firefighters frustrated by shuttered facilities and service cuts are calling for county officials to reconsider impending station closures following news of higher tax revenues resulting from rising property values in most Contra Costa County cities.
Members of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County are asking county supervisors to rethink their decision to close a Pittsburg fire station and another unidentified fire station in January. The Pittsburg station is scheduled to go offline Monday.
In a statement, Local 1230 President Vince Wells said both the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConFire) and the East Contra Costa Fire District were unable to provide enough resources to respond to fires in Pittsburg, Brentwood and Orinda on Monday. The union says the overwhelming demand for firefighters in those places left other areas without adequate coverage.
Now, ConFire, which normally provides assistance to smaller agencies in the county, has "become the agency in need," Wells said.
The events Monday were "just a small example of the impacts that the cuts already made have had on our ability to provide fire protection to the communities within the district," Wells said in the statement.
The troubled district has been struggling with a budget pummeled by the housing market collapse and rising retirement costs. In January, county supervisors acting as the ConFire board voted to de-staff fire stations in Lafayette, Martinez and Walnut Creek following voter rejection of a $75-per-parcel tax; service in Clayton was also reduced.
But an announcement Monday that total countywide assessed property values rose 3.45 percent over last year, or almost $5 billion, has raised hopes that looming cuts can be avoided and service restored.
"We are hopeful that we can begin to move forward with reopening our closed fire stations and bringing our staffing levels back up to what is necessary for a county the size of Contra Costa," Wells said.
ConFire Chief Daryl Louder said the district will see an increase in revenue, but does not yet know how much. Officials had calculated a 2 percent growth in property values in their 2013-14 budget, but Louder said he doesn't think the uptick in property tax dollars will be enough to reverse station closures.
"I don't think this increase in revenues will allow us to restore services, but it may slow down or stop the continual 'hemorrhaging' of units," he wrote in an e-mail.
The district is also anticipating increases in pension costs in fiscal year 2014-15. County supervisors will be discussing the district's financial status at a board meeting Tuesday.