The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department – Part One

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Part One:
The Pinole Fire Fighters, along with other Fire Departments and Districts In the State of California are at a critical juncture. In fact, public safety (police and fire) as a whole are at the top of most municipalities budget concerns.

Pinole is considered to be a “full service” city.
What constitutes a full service City?
The California League of California Cities defines full-service as offering major municipal services such as police, fire, public works and planning. Some cities have fire or recreation services through a ‘special district’ comprised of two or more cities. Other full-service cities have enterprise funds that also support sewer services.

The issue is, can Pinole, with its small population and current revenue continue to support and sustain “full-service” city Police and Fire Departments services without additional revenue or without changing the service models and/or joining other departments?
Two thirds of the city’s budget of approximately $12 million dollars is allocated to Public Safety, Fire and Police.
City of Pinole Budget – 2013-2014
P
ublic Safety, Pages 97-127

Every year the city must review its budget and prioritize its needs.
Over the course of the last 7 years public safety costs have been an issue. The city reduced its personnel overall, after the loss of redevelopment, take-aways from the State and during the course of the Great Recession.
It also negotiated reduced benefits and salaries for many departments.
It is no surprise that Public Safety has been at the forefront of budget concerns. What is somewhat of a surprise to residents is the very public battle between the city and its fire department.

It is also no surprise that Pinole residents view their Police and Fire as the most important service the city provides. Pinole residents have considered Pinole a safe place to live and to raise their families. They have expressed those sentiments on more than one occasion at the ballot box, Measure S is one example, the UUT is another.

But can Pinole continue to afford to consider itself a full-service city?
The primary issue for all Public Safety departments and their unions has been the battle over pensions and benefits, salaries have not been the major sticking point in the negotiation process.

And although the Police and Fire are both engaged in negotiations on a regular basis, it is only the fire department that has been targeted by members of the council, staff and the CCOP as the reason for our city’s budget woes.

The Firefighters filed a PERB lawsuit in 2011 against the City of Pinole.
There are two PERB complaints;
1. Unfair labor practices. This suit is about the closure of station 74 while Local 1230 and the City were in the meet and confer process over the impacts of this action on the fire employees. The PERB Board ruled in favor of Local 1230 and this ruling is currently being appealed by the City. Settlement could be 500,000 to 1.5 million. Still to be determined.
http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_25088598/pinole-appeal-judges-decision-ordering-reopening-fire-station?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com
2. Unfairly imposing part of the Employers cost of PERS on the Employee. The PERB Board ruled in favor of the City and this ruling is currently being appealed by Local 1230.
http://www.perb.ca.gov/decisionbank/pdfs/2288M.pdf
http://www.lcwlegal.com/83234

In another interesting turn of events, the City originally rejected a $1.3 million dollar SAFER Grant, which the Fire Department states was intended to re-open Pinole Valley Fire Station 74, then later accepted it. But the acceptance of that grant by the city was done not for the purposes of re-opening Station 74, but rather to offset the Fire Department budget.

Some History:
In 2006, with the cost of services rising and the city unable to make long range budget plans for continuing to provide “full service city” Public Safety levels, a special tax measure was placed on the ballot.

I am providing the reader with this background information as we explore, over the course of the next month, the fate of the Pinole Fire Department.

Measure S Pass: 3,308 / 59.65% Yes votes …… 2,238 / 40.35% No votes

Measure S, Ballot Language, 2006, Ben Reyes
The City Council of the City of Pinole placed Measure S on the November 7, 2006 ballot to ask voters to consider an ordinance imposing a general transactions and use (sales) tax of one-half of one percent (0.50%) to be administered by the State Board of Equalization. The proposed tax will increase the local sales tax rate in Pinole from the current 8.25% to 8.75%. Measure S is a general tax and would only become effective if approved by a majority of voters casting a vote on the Measure at the November 7, 2006 general election.

City Staff projects that the General Fund will be out of balance during fiscal year 2008-2009, and will not be sufficient to maintain the Minimum Reserve level. At the current rate of expenditure, Staff projects that the City will likely experience a budgetary deficit by fiscal year 2010-
2011. The projected budgetary shortfall can be attributed to factors outside of the City’s control, including significant increases in the cost of employee health insurance and retirement benefits, decreases in revenue from existing taxes and fees, property tax take-aways by the State, and general increases in the cost of materials and supplies necessary for City operations.

Absent an additional source of General Fund revenue, the City may not be able to maintain adequate staff and service levels. For example, Pinole Police may not have enough patrol officers to confront increases in crime, particularly around the Pinole Vista Shopping Center area. The Fire Department may not be able to continue to staff the Pinole Valley Fire Station with minimum firefighting crews. The Public Works Department may not be able to maintain roadways, storm drains and other water control and discharge infrastructures.

The proposed transaction and use (sales) tax is estimated to generate approximately $1,800,000.00 per year for the City of Pinole. This is a local tax which will be collected and placed in the City of Pinole’s General Fund account. Under Proposition 1A, this local tax revenue cannot be taken away by the State or County. This revenue would be sufficient to prevent the forecasted deficit in the Minimum Reserve and would allow the City to provide adequate levels of public safety, public works, and necessary support services. This tax does not have a “sunset provision” and will continue to be levied unless repealed by the voters. Proceeds from the local transactions and use (sales) tax may be expended for any municipal purpose. If the tax is not approved by the voters, the City would likely have to implement reductions in general municipal services.

By placing Measure S on the ballot, the City complies with Article XIIIC of the California Constitution (adopted by Proposition 218), which requires the voters to approve an ordinance which imposes a general tax. A copy of the proposed ordinance is printed in the sample ballot.

DATED: August 7, 2006

Argument For Measure S, Betty Boyle
Passing a local half-cent general sales tax is critical to preserve and improve essential city services, including, but not limited to, public safety and street and storm drain repairs. Additionally, the tax will provide funding to continue the full staffing of our fire station in Pinole Valley.

The City of Pinole has been one of the most efficient and fiscally conservative full service cities in the County, as determined by an independent finance consulting study. Compared with other cities of the same size, Pinole provides better services and programs with fewer resources year after year.

In the past four fiscal years, the State of California has taken over $5.5 million from the City of Pinole to balance the State’s budget. Additionally, neighboring communities are permitting superstores that will divert current sales tax from Pinole and weaken our General Fund.

Despite our efficiencies, we still have a number of unmet needs. Public Safety needs include additional officers to focus on gangs, narcotics, violent crime, and vice. Other items include disaster emergency preparedness and regional aid programs. Additional funds are needed for the repair and maintenance of our aging storm drain and street infrastructure.

The local half-cent general sales tax would generate $1.8 million. This tax places the least amount of burden on the residents of Pinole, because the majority of the tax revenue is generated from residents of other communities. However, Pinole citizens are assured that 100% of this tax stays in the City of Pinole and the State cannot take any of it away! Join Pinole citizens in fighting to maintain our high community standards, our property values, and keeping Pinole safe by VOTING “YES” ON MEASURE S.

Betty G. Boyle
Mayor, City of Pinole

Argument Against Measure S, Rod Melgard
Pinole is hardly short of money. Lacking a chapel, they paint murals costing hundreds of thousands on concrete overpasses and retaining walls. The City employs a person whose job it is to trespass on private property, peek over fences (what does your garden grow?) and give otherwise law abiding citizens, citations for what they see thus requiring owners to plant their front yard to cement or asphalt to avoid further molestation. While the street in front of your house goes to ruin you are cited for parking your boat in your back yard. These are visible wastes and, like an iceberg, six times as much is hidden. (Pay a good grant writer this money and watch it grow!)

The Pinole Council proposed Pinole Vista to be a financial savior for the city. Now they say it’s a drain which needs more tax money for support. Ten years ago they “needed” the Utility Tax “temporarily” until Vista was completed and providing income to the City. Two years ago this temporary tax essentially became permanent.

The State is unlikely to be taking Pinole’s money away. Property taxes are going up at an incredible rate due to price increases as are other sources of income. The Council is just political fear mongering. This Council is also the Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors and has amply demonstrated it cannot think two years ahead nonetheless predict shortages in 2011.

If sales tax is such a good idea lets vote this one down and next year vote on a tax that is twice as high with the additional revenue used to reduce our regressive utility tax.

These taxes are not justified at this time. I request your vote of NO.
Rod Melgard

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