In addition to outright misstatements, there has been a great deal of "guilt by association" practiced by anti-tax individuals and organizations regarding the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and its struggle to adequately fund a five-station district to protect over 105,000 residents spread over 249 square miles.
Of the many examples, I choose here to respond to the oft-repeated charge that the ECCFPD board has done nothing to manage spiraling pension costs.
I do not expect to change anyone's attitude about public safety pensions in general, or to downplay the seriousness of the situation facing so many jurisdictions in this state that employ public safety personnel. I acknowledge the history of actions by others that led us to the current crisis.
As we go to the public for additional funding, it is imperative that the truth about our district be known and understood.
The local ECCFPD board of directors (first constituted in 2010) has done everything permitted within current law to reduce or manage pension costs. We have implemented every part of the governor's two-tier plan as passed by the Legislature in 2012.
Our latest contracts with the employee associations call for each employee to pay 100 percent of their share of pension costs. In our district, this can range up to 25 percent of a firefighter's gross pay, depending upon individual circumstances.
We are fully participating in -- and current with our payments to -- the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association program to reduce unfunded liabilities in a timely manner.
Like any other fixed debt, the ECCFPD portion of unfunded liabilities remains a constant amount, no matter how many current employees it has.
We have never had the more outrageous pension spiking provisions of some other districts, and our contributions to CCCERA do not help fund those payments.
We are only pooled with ConFire, which is a net benefit due to our employee count. As to the vacation sell-back controversy of the last two years, that is gone forever, barring a reversal in an appellate court.
Any employee who was going to exercise that right had to retire by a court-imposed deadline last month. Some did so, from ConFire and other county departments, but none did from ECCFPD.
Even though not legally mandated, the local board in 2010 instituted a district program to eliminate unfunded liabilities from retiree medical by fiscal year 2018-19, and the district is current on those payments.
The fire chief and the board finance committee work continuously with CCCERA to stay abreast of pension developments, obtain our most favorable contribution rates, and accurately integrate them into our five- and 10-year budget projections.
Any further changes to district pensions is now wholly dependent on actions far beyond the district, either by changes in state law (through the Legislature or initiative process), or by decisions in the courts.
That is where those decrying pension costs should direct their efforts. I disagree profoundly with those who would place the lives, health and property of 105,000 of us at further risk to make some kind of point beyond district boundaries.
Stephen F. Smith is a director of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and is chair of the finance committee.