CONTRA COSTA COUNTY -- Contra Costa's largest fire district will deliberate Tuesday whether to ask voters in November for a $75 a year parcel tax intended to keep open a third of the financially struggling agency's stations.
Declining property tax receipts coupled with rising firefighter pension and health benefit costs has left the Contra Costa Fire Protection District in the red.
Without more money to tide the district over until the economic climate improves, Fire Chief Daryl Louder has said he must close seven to 10 of the district's 28 stations and lay off firefighters.
The district serves 304 square miles including nine cities and a large swath of unincorporated area in the central portion of the county.
Details of the proposed tax include:
The $100-million-a-year district estimates its property tax receipts -- the vast majority of its funds -- have dropped $32 million since 2008.
At the same time, pension costs have skyrocketed in the economic downturn. The fire
Confire's pension bill this fiscal year is $26 million, which will consume slightly more than a quarter of the agency's revenues. By 2017, estimates show the price tag will reach $35.7 million, an amount equal to 37 percent of its income.
Critics within the community, including the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, have already raised questions about the tax idea, which was unveiled last month.
They have argued that the district has failed to secure meaningful cost-cutting concessions from the firefighters' union.
They have also noted that the plan includes no money for aging equipment and buildings nor does it call for serious exploration of privatization or other less costly ways to provide emergency fire and medical services.
The board of supervisors, which also serves as the fire district, will consider the tax question at a public hearing on Tuesday starting at 10:30 a.m. in the county's Martinez public meeting chambers.