As voters consider a tax to fully fund fire and emergency response services in the Contra Costa Fire Protection District, we trust they understand this is about keeping firehouses open.
That it is about ensuring that firefighters and firefighter paramedics are on the job and can get to a burning building or to a sick, injured or life-threatened resident of Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Concord, Clayton, Martinez, El Sobrante, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Antioch, Bay Point, Pacheco or Rossmoor community before it is too late.
It is a shame the Contra Costa Times editorial board and its editorial recommending voters reject this measure failed to grasp that fact.
Essentially, your position boils down to: Hold hostage new funding to save vital public protection, rescue and emergency medical services unless and until something is done about the rising cost of district retirement benefits, despite that changes to retirement benefits have been made and with more efforts still in progress. And, even when they do, they won't fix the current funding problem. Talk about irresponsible.
This district has stretched a declining budget as far as it can go, shrinking our workforce, deferring repairs and reducing salaries and benefits for firefighters.
This parcel tax has a seven-year sunset provision so that the fire district has time to continue working to reduce overhead costs and implement reforms.
In the meantime,
Before 2010, the district staffed 30 companies to serve more than 600,000 residents. By next year, if this measure fails, it could be down to 18 companies, with just 55 firefighters on duty a day to answer more than 41,000 calls a year over 304 square miles.
The fire district has put forward a fiscally responsible plan vetted through a series of public meetings.
National standards call for one firefighter for every 1,000 residents and for emergency calls to be answered within six minutes. Without this funding, we will have one firefighter for every 3,600 residents -- more than three times the national standard -- and response times could climb to 10 minutes, even 20 minutes in certain scenarios.
While property owners might save a few dollars a week in property taxes, they would risk paying much, much more for homeowners insurance, as insurers jack up premiums covering neighborhoods with substandard fire protection services.
And, of course, there could be even steeper prices to be paid for delayed responses to calls for fire rescue and emergency medical care.
So, by all means, we must find solutions to the strain rising pension costs are putting on budgets, whether they be government, employer or household.
But let's not put Contra Costa County lives, livelihoods and property in danger unnecessarily along the way.
Vince Wells is a fire captain and president of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County.