On April 27, 2015, property owners casting their ballots narrowly rejected a proposed fire suppression benefit assessment in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD), though only 25% of ballots mailed out were returned. The proposed assessment would have allowed the embattled ECCFPD to keep 5 fire stations open and provide an improved level of fire service. Without this assessment revenue, ECCFPD will have only three stations to cover an area of 249 square miles with a population of well over 100,000 people. The City of Brentwood alone, with over 50,000 people, will have one fire station. A service area of that size should have three times as many stations and fire fighters, per national standards and as compared with similar jurisdictions in California.

The ECCFPD is a “post Proposition 13” District, so it receives a small share of property taxes, relative to districts created before Proposition 13 (Proposition 13 was approved in 1978). The proposed assessment would have allowed ECCFPD to provide at least a reasonable level of fire service. Without that funding, the service level will simply not be sufficient. Board Directors Bryant and Smith summed up their comments after the ballot tabulation as, “God help us all.”

NBS developed an in-depth analysis of the Fire District’s finances and service levels, along with a detailed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) review of fire hydrant and station locations to create a fire assessment methodology that was hailed by the Fire Chief, Board Directors, Staff and legal counsel as a “new model” and a “prototype” for the future. Unfortunately, those who chose to submit their ballots rejected the assessment, which resulted in immediate plans for station closures and fire fighter layoffs.

This is an ominous situation for this particular community and a thought-provoking wake up call for many other communities across California. Do we trust local government to provide certain services, or not?