For more than two years, officials of the Contra Costa Fire District have argued that they need more money.
But rather than embark on a serious examination of how to deliver services more cost-effectively, Chief Daryl Louder and the county Board of Supervisors have done nothing, hoping that voters would simply agree to tax themselves more.
It was a cynical, political and irresponsible move, blackmailing residents, telling them to cough up more money or watch stations close and homes burn. But voters on Nov. 6 said no, rejecting a $75 annual parcel tax.
Their message was simple: First show us meaningful efforts to cut costs, to contain out-of-control pension expenses and to provide emergency medical service more cheaply than sending high-priced firefighters.
Louder and the supervisors should not be surprised. The election outcome was predictable. But now that the tax has failed, their first move will probably be to close stations.
They've backed themselves, and residents, into a corner because they have made no meaningful efforts to find alternatives.
Louder's response has been particularly disappointing.
He's fixated on his conventional fire protection model.
To use a worn cliché, he's unable to think outside the box. His presentations have been nothing more than boosterism for business as usual.
Meanwhile, the supervisors, apparently unwilling to risk the political wrath of the firefighters,
(As an interesting aside, we note that the fire district's web site makes no mention of the supervisors as the directors in charge.
The organizational chart shows Louder at the top, as if he has ultimate authority.)
Serious action is long overdue. Louder has failed to deliver meaningful policy analysis. If he doesn't show more initiative, supervisors should replace him with someone who will.
Meanwhile, they must bypass him and bring in independent outside experts to evaluate new ways to deliver services efficiently and effectively. As we said before the election, the questions that must be asked include:
Should firefighters continue delivering emergency medical services? If so, should they continue to receive extra pay for that, or should it be part of their basic salary? Should at least some of the county's 10 financially strapped fire districts be merged to save on administrative costs?
Should fire inspectors continue to receive pensions at rates that were intended for people who put their lives on the lines? Should current firefighters be asked to agree to reduced pension accruals for their future working years rather than watching more of them lose their jobs?
These questions must be seriously analyzed. The answers are long overdue.