"This obviously is not something we take lightly," said Contra Costa County Fire Chief Daryl Louder. He says that without a parcel tax, he may have to close as many as one-third of his 28 fire stations. "We're basically at a juncture right now where we do not have the financial ability to continue to provide adequate service levels," he said.
Contra Costa relies almost entirely on property taxes to fund its fire services. In 2011, 70 percent of the district's 41,000 calls involved medical response, not firefighting. That's one argument opponents say use against the parcel tax. "Our contention is they're no longer a firefighting agency. Only 3.3 percent of their calls are related to fires," said Kris Hunt with the Contra Costa County Taxpayers Association. "The vast majority, over 70 percent, is for emergency services which duplicates the ambulance service that we already have in place."
However, firefighters argue the five-year tax is necessary to provide consistent and quick fire and medical services to the district's 600,000 residents in an era of increasing pension costs and steep declines in revenues. "So, we're already pretty much just making it. So, cutting any more stations is going to increase the response times. We try to get there within four or six minutes, and we're already not able to meet that," said Vincent Wells with the firefighters union.
"What this would do, as well as any tax proposal, is you're asking the citizenry to pay more, when they have less," said tax opponent Ralph Hernandez.
Supervisors are expected to recommend further study on the parcel tax. They will vote on the issue on July 31.