East Contra Costa Fire District burned by voters

Firefighters save citizens every day, but unfortunately for East Contra Costa, citizens did not – and would not – save them in return.

Residents there voted against Measure S this election Tuesday, which would have generated up to $101 million dollars for preserving fire departments, reopening those that closed in 2010 and hiring enough firefighters with paramedic experience to have one on every shift.

The new tax would have started off at $197 on July 1, and continue to increase up to 3 percent annually until it reached $257 in 2021-22.

The district’s board is now going to meet Monday to decide the best course of action.

There are two plans in the works – the first being to lay off 16 of its 43 firefighters and close down the Bethel Island and Knightsen stations, as well as one of the two in Brentwood. An alternate plan is to lay off 19 firefighters and close only two stations, leaving both in Brentwood intact.

Fire Chief Hugh Henderson said he recommends closing three stations to continue working the industry standard of three firefighters per shift. Seniority and rank will be a determinant of who will stay and who will be laid off.

Layoffs will begin June 15.

Residents like Austin Allen said he voted against the measure because it seemed like fire departments were simply trying to hook more money to just to spend it inefficiently.

“I felt like they’re asking for more money so they can spend more money. They’re not really trying to fix the problem that they’re spending more than they’re making.”

Fire Board President Kevin Romick said that while he was disappointed, the failure of Measure S reflected the sentiments of the people who attended meetings surrounding this measure’s proposal.

He said a sunset clause was added and the annual increase was lowered to 5 percent at the request of the voters.

The East Contra Costa Fire District was plagued with money woes in the past, but not so much as in 2008 with the housing market collapse.

Property tax revenue makes up around 90 percent of the district’s revenue, which has since dropped more than 30 percent over the last four years.