A 10-year parcel tax to save fire services in East Contra Costa County was soundly defeated according to Wednesday morning results.
Measure S required two-thirds approval to pass, but it garnered just 43.6 percent of the 14,216 votes cast with all precincts reporting.
The tax would have generated up to $101 million over the next decade, money that would have enabled the fire district to save two or three stations that are on the brink of closure and the jobs of as many as 19 firefighters. The money was also going to be used to reopen a station and hire 20 firefighters with paramedic training so that it can have one of them on each shift.
East Contra Costa Fire has been operating with three firefighters per engine -- the industry standard -- at four stations and two men on engines at the other two.
Neither Fire Chief Hugh Henderson nor district board President Kevin Romick was available for comment late Tuesday evening.
The firefighters' union, however, conceded defeat in a written statement issued shortly before midnight.
"We are clearly very disappointed in these results," said Vince Wells, president of Local 1230 of United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County.
"We hoped that East County residents would understand the critical issues at stake ... and the damaging effect of failing to pass Measure S. More station closures and firefighter layoffs will mean it takes longer to get the help you need in an emergency, when seconds count."
Although she worked to defeat the measure, Kris Hunt, executive director of Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, said Tuesday she had mixed feelings about the way the vote was going.
She said the agency's nine-member board of directors proposed a hefty tax that put residents in the position of either having to approve it or, as proponents framed the issue, face dire consequences if they rejected it.
"They should have done something more realistic, something that people could afford," Hunt said.
Money troubles have dogged East Contra Costa Fire District for years, but they intensified in 2008 with the collapse of the housing market.
Property tax revenue, which accounts for about 90 of the district's budget, has dropped by more than 30 percent over the past four years, and in summer 2010 the agency was forced to close two of its eight stations.
By the time the fiscal year ends June 30 the district expects to have about $500,000 left in savings.
And without the parcel tax, the gap between income and expenses is projected to widen unless the district makes more cuts to operate with a balanced budget.
The tax, which was slated to take effect July 1, would have started at $197 and increase by up to 3 percent annually until it reached $257 in 2021-22, when it was scheduled to sunset.
Staff writer Sean Maher contributed to this report. Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.