Plummeting Tax Revenue the Culprit
THE EAST-BAY REGION CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, California, is facing the possibility of a severe cutback in fire protection service unless a special "per parcel" tax is approved by the voters this November.
Contra Costa Fire Chief Daryl Louder surprised the county board of supervisors Tuesday night with his projection of needing a $90 special tax to maintain current levels of protection. The Contra Costa Times reports:
No tax has been put on the ballot yet. But the rate the chief quoted is more than double what supervisors were told last year in preliminary talks, and they publicly rebuked Louder over the unpleasant surprise.
"We do need a measure," said Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond. "But we have to be sensitive to what the public is willing to pay and balance that with the needs of the fire district. Before we put an amount out there, it needs to come to us. I don't want to be kept in the dark."
Response times will drop, the agency will have less capacity to help its neighbors in big incidents and fire insurance on shops and homes will rise, the chief said.
The district already falls short of standards set by the International City/County Management Association of one firefighter per 1,000 residents. Under that standard, Contra Costa should have 600 firefighters for its 600,000 residents.
The staffing ratio would drop to one-third of a firefighter per 1,000 people without the tax revenues and "there is no jurisdiction in the nation with our level of risk that has staffing levels that low," Louder said.
The precipitous shortfall is directly the result of plummeting real estate values leading to declining tax revenues.
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