A decline in property tax revenue has threatened the Consolidated Fire District's ability to continue to provide acceptable response times to fires and medical emergencies, and the fire district is considering placing a parcel tax on the ballot in November to help keep the engines running and the station house doors open.
That was the message Con Fire Chief Daryl Louder presented to the Pleasant Hill City Council earlier this month.
Con Fire serves nine cities, including Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Lafayette, Clayton, El Sobrante, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Antioch, Bay Point, Pacheco and unincorporated Contra Costa County.
"Ninety percent of our revenue comes from property taxes," Louder told the council. "There has been a $32 million reduction in property tax revenue over past four years, and meanwhile, our operating costs continue to increase."
Louder said health care and pension cost increases have contributed to the problem. In terms of pensions, "the majority of those losses are the result of market losses from investments, and from depooling," he said. "The pension system made agencies responsible for their own programs, and that happened at an inopportune time"
Louder said that the district has reduced personnel, cut benefits and salaries and "done everything we could do to reduce costs. We've used all of our reserve funds to maintain critical services to communities."
But it's not enough to sustain the current levels of service, he said. The district board of directors will consider putting a parcel tax before voters in November. The proposed tax would be a flat rate for residential properties, and tiered for commercial properties. There would be a senior exemption, and would sunset in seven years. Louder said the plan would raise up to $20.2 million each year. The flat rate would run between $63 and $88 per year for residential properties, he said.
Without it, the district may have to close seven fire stations next year, and another ten stations in the future, he said.
Without the tax, Louder said there will be a "devastating impact on the communities we serve."
The district board will consider the tax at its meeting on July 31 at 10 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 651 Pine St. in Martinez.
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