Ten Reasons Why a Fire District Tax Measure Will Not Pass
1. Lack of Clear Advocacy - California law prevents government agencies from advocating for new taxes, and so the District can at best “educate” the public on the aspects of a new tax. They can’t promote the services a new tax will provide. Without an aggressive advocacy campaign, a certain percentage of voters will not be moved to vote “Yes.”
2. Pension Envy - Examination of unfunded pension liabilities spotlights firefighter and district management’s post-employment benefits, benefits that most people in America do not receive. For this reason a certain percentage of voters will not vote to further extend these benefits to firefighters.
3. Diverse Communities, Some Unserved - The District is large, comprised of many communities. Each community wants better service, but when they are told they will not get a visible icon of this service, a fire station, for instance, in or near their community, they question why they should vote “Yes” on additional taxes. A certain percentage of voters will not be in favor of any tax measure that will not directly benefit them.
4. Lack of Interest – Some voters view the issue of fire district funding with apathy. Job, family, church, and a lengthy commute are many of the issues competing for a person’s attention. Indifference results in lack of knowledge and a certain percentage of voters will not vote “Yes” for this reason.
5. The Perception of Unfair, Unequal Treatment - Other fire districts in Contra Costa County receive a larger percentage allocation of the primary funding source for fire districts in California, the property tax. Comparable districts receive between 21% and 14%, while ECCFPD gets 7.5%. A certain percentage of voters feel that this unfair allocation of property taxes needs to be addressed before new taxes make sense.
6. Organized and Unorganized Opposition – The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association (CoCoTax), with their “Good government at an affordable cost” slogan, represents organized opposition. Letter writers in the local newspapers are the unorganized opposition. Both mount campaigns at low or no cost that are visible, and effective in shaping some public opinion.
7. Lack of Campaign Funding - The Fire District has historically spent all its resources on current and past (retiree) operating expenses, with very little or none being spent on the on-going shaping of community opinion. The unfunded pension liability drains the operating budget of an amount roughly equal to the current operating personnel expenses. Consequently a certain percentage of voters will not be reached with any Fire District tax-positive messaging.
8. Embarrassing Comments/Actions by Fire District Leadership - The District’s management and oversight lack substantive political experience, and until recently were appointed community volunteers holding a place for their respective appointing entities. Examples of tone-deaf media communications include Chief Henderson’s post-election Facebook post, Board President Joel Bryant’s comments from the same time and other times, and Director Stephen Smith’s comments. The discovery of $6.2 million of unreported funds creates the impression of incompetence. Some voters would include the 25% salary increase over a three year contract that firefighters received, and the 63% salary increase over five years the Fire Chief received, on this list. A certain percentage of voters are put-off by this behavior, and will not approve new taxes.
9. Traditional, Fundamental Opposition to More Taxes - A certain percentage of the general population is fundamentally opposed to paying taxes, and holds a deep-seated disdain for government. A consultant to cities, counties and special districts, Dr. G. Gary Manross, puts this percentage who will not vote for a new tax at 24%.
10. The Competition for “Yes” Votes - All government entities are scrambling for more revenue. Some are more experienced in getting the “Yes” votes (schools and parks entities), and they continue to succeed. There are winners and losers in this competition, and ECCFPD has a losing record. This pattern will continue.