As Contra Costa supervisors Tuesday consider placing a tax increase on the November ballot for the county's largest fire district, they should review the lessons of two recent ill-fated measures.
In the spring, voters wisely and overwhelmingly rejected a fee hike for the Contra Costa Clean Water Program and a huge tax increase for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
Each measure had unique problems, but the common denominator was a lack of transparency and a failure to produce useful financial analyses so voters could evaluate whether the funds would be spent wisely.
The water program also outraged voters by using public money to mail out campaign propaganda. To stay technically legal, officials claimed the slick brochures were educational materials because they did not explicitly urge a yes vote. There was no doubt what they really were.
The outcomes of those measures should serve as warning signs to county supervisors, who sit as the directors of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District and hold the authority to place its proposed tax measure on the ballot. The district covers much of Central County and Antioch, Pittsburg and San Pablo.
On Tuesday, fire Chief Daryl Louder will recommend to the supervisors an annual tax of $63 to $88 per residential parcel. We haven't formulated a recommendation on the measure. That will come later. But we already have concerns about the process we're seeing.
Going forward, we expect the district to present objective information about the proposed tax, current and long-range district budget projections, the specific dollar amounts of personnel costs, the anticipated rise in the cost of retirement benefits, and creative alternatives to the tax-increase, not just scare tactics.
In these financially difficult times, it's also essential that government leaders examine whether services can be better delivered in new and different ways. Often for political reasons, the inefficient status quo is preserved.
Finally, we expect the chief to perform his administrative function as a neutral policy analyst, not a one-sided advocate. From school districts and cities to counties and special districts, we see far too many top administrators forgetting their roles. They are not the politicians, and they should not behave like them.
As we evaluate this proposal, we'll expect useful information, not spin and propaganda. Residents should demand the same.