Voters douse most tax-increase fires

June 15, 2012

By Dave Roberts

When you take on the firefighters’ union, it helps to have an asbestos hide.

Kris Hunt, executive director for the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, has waged a number of political battles over the years, including once receiving a death threat. But her recent battle against a $197 tax hike in a small fire district on the eastern edge of the Bay Area turned out to be the nastiest yet.

She was slandered as a “community terrorist” and repeatedly called a liar. One blogger placed her and five other tax opponents (including myself) on a hit list of people to contact if your house burns down. Hunt was told that a board member asked a staffer to find out her address.

Hunt jokes that she’s shopping for alligators for her moat.

“I have never been in one that was made so personal before,” she said. “Usually people will argue with you, but this thing actually devolved into name calling. They are still at it, that we are lying. Wow. They can’t accept reality. This is probably going to continue just because we have hit where they hurt. And when they didn’t have a solid argument they really let it get personal, and that is unfortunate.”

As for being on a hit list, Hunt said, “That’s another level of viciousness. By that time I decided the only way to deal with this, if you aren’t going to be able to convince these people, then you make fun. I said that I am number one on the list — I am bragging about it. That seemed the only way to deal with this.”

But she also acknowledged, “There’s a level of concern only in that there are crazy people out there. People can go over the line and get very emotional.”

Despite fire tax proponents spending $177,000 (to zero spending by opponents), the tax hike failed to gain a majority of the vote, let alone the two-thirds required to pass.

It was always going to be a tough sell asking for an additional $2,200 per home over 10 years when most people have lost 39 percent of their net worth in the last three years and many are still staggering from the aftershocks of the Great Recession. But the district board decided to go for it anyway, doing the bidding of the firefighters union as it seeks to increase salaries, benefits and jobs.

Fire tax hikes were not that popular throughout the state. In addition to the failure of the East Contra Costa tax hike, a $100 tax hike in Higgins, a $40 hike in North Auburn-Ophir, a $79 tax in Placer Hills and a $59 tax in Crest all failed.

There were two successful fire tax measures: a $150 tax in Newcastle and a four-year extension of a $65 tax in San Mateo County.

Tax-paid propaganda

Despite the economic malaise headwinds, fire tax measures have several built-in advantages for passage. Foremost is the ability to use taxpayer dollars to propagandize for more taxpayer dollars under the guise of an “education” campaign. The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District paid $120,000 to a campaign marketing firm. That money could have funded a firefighter for a year. It instead provided alarmist fliers to every home in the district and a series of tax-hike sales meetings.

“Alarmism” was the theme of the tax-hike campaign. The district’s first flier kicked it off with an official-looking brochure containing emergency contact numbers, a bold headline on a flaming red background, “Attention: East County Resident” and a 470-word message from the police chief explaining why a tax hike is necessary.

The district’s second taxpayer-provided flier was another official-looking piece headlined, “A Critical Update from Your Fire District.” It argued that the district has a deficit because of a 35 percent decline in revenues in the past four years and because the district receives half the property tax revenue of other districts. There’s no mention of the skyrocketing cost of retirement benefits as a contributing factor to the deficit. But there is a rebuttal to an argument that the district “should slash firefighter salaries,” stating that they make 71 percent less than firefighters in a neighboring district.

Another big advantage for tax hike proponents is the firefighters union. The International Association of Firefighters Local 1230 poured $44,000 into the campaign, resulting in more alarmist fliers. One door hanger headlined “IT’S AN EMERGENCY!” warned that without the tax hike “your health and home [will be] at risk” due to longer response times [photo of house on fire] and insurance rates will increase by thousands of dollars per year [photo of four $1,000 bills burning].” Another flier featured a large photo of an auto accident.

It’s telling that the person who presented the pro-tax side in a Measure S debate was not the fire district president or a board member, but instead the president of the local firefighters union, who is a fire captain in another fire district. Vince Wells, who led the tax-hike campaign, is also a contributor to the fiscal problem resulting in the need for tax hike campaigns. Last year Wells received from taxpayers: $103,635 in base salary, $20,912 in overtime, $15,794 in health care, $30,468 contribution to his pension and $15,990 in miscellaneous compensation. However, he does contribute 26 percent of his salary to his pension.

Cushy retirement

Firefighters can retire at age 50 and receive a pension equivalent to 3 percent of their pay for every year worked. That equates to 90 percent of final salary for someone who started at age 20. And that adds up. Forty percent of Contra Costa County government retirees receiving pensions of $100,000 or more used to work for a fire district. More than half of those receiving pensions of $200,000 or more are former fire district employees. And the top pension profiteer, enjoying more than $300,000 a year, is a former fire chief.

Retirement expenses in the East County fire district increased 26 percent this year and are projected to increase another 30 percent in the next three years. At that point, one out of every four dollars spent on firefighting will go for retirement. The Fire Protection District is morphing into the Retirement Protection District. Ironically, not even the $100 million tax hike would have been enough to stop the fiscal hemorrhaging. The district was still projected to return to deficit spending in four years.

The hero card

Another advantage is the residual good will for firefighters from 9/11 — the hero card. One billboard shows a smoky firefighter who looks like he’s been through hell, with the message: “When others ran out, he rushed in. When the Fire District asked for 54 cents a day, you laid him off!”

With Measure S receiving just 46 percent of the vote, the district is making good on its threats of Armageddon. Half of the district’s six stations will close and 15 firefighters will be laid off on July 1, reducing the force to 27.

Chief Hugh Henderson warned that response times to the outlying parts of the 250-square-mile district could more than double. Despite that, the board — again doing the bidding of the firefighters union — rejected the option of leaving four stations open with two firefighters in each. Instead, they chose to go with three stations with three firefighters each. That will provide a reduced workload for the firefighters but will increase response times in certain areas.

Tax-hike opponents are offering numerous suggestions to cut costs while continuing to deliver good service. They include privatizing fire protection, consolidating the fire districts in the county, serious pension reform, hiring more on-call reserve and volunteer firefighters, rectifying the top-heavy staffing, asking the cities in the district to donate and filing for bankruptcy. It remains to be seen whether the board investigates any of these options. It will probably depend on what the union wants. Politicians defy public-sector unions at their peril.

But taxpayers from Wisconsin to San Diego to East Contra Costa are fighting back against government of, by and for the government unions. East County fire board President Kevin Romick said, in regard to a county water tax hike that he opposed: “Every once in a while you’ve got to stand up to the bureaucratic behemoth and tell them it’s not right.” Fifty-six percent of his constituents agreed, voting down Romick’s tax hike.

Note: This article was corrected. It originally said that Vince Wells contributed “zero” to his pension. In fact, he contributes 26 percent of his salary. We regret the error.

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  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 08:53

    Over ULED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just like Clowns pension/sales tax will be.

    BAM 🙂

    Reply this comment
  2. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 08:56

    “They can’t accept reality. This is probably going to continue just because we have hit where they hurt. And when they didn’t have a solid argument they really let it get personal, and that is unfortunate.”

    Isn’t this normal behaviour from the trough feeders, to go personal after you destroy them with the truth.

    Kris may have to just sue em. It stops the troughies DEAD in their tracks 😉

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 09:01

    The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District paid $120,000 to a campaign marketing firm. That money could have funded a firefighter for a year.

    A YEAR????? No way, more like 6 months, they pay those hyper inflated multi million dollar pensions with real money.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 09:13

    Fire tax hikes were not that popular throughout the state. In addition to the failure of the East Contra Costa tax hike, a $100 tax hike in Higgins, a $40 hike in North Auburn-Ophir, a $79 tax in Placer Hills and a $59 tax in Crest all failed.

    BAM!!!!!!!!!!!! Vindication baby 😉

    Man, I hate being right all the time 😉

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 09:14

    I CAN’T WAIT until it is voting time, Clowns pension, A/K/A sales tax, is going to fail SPECTACULARLY, and that will be the end game for the troughies.

    Reply this comment
  6. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 15 June, 2012, 09:36

    Someone is overly wrought, a pity. Your arguments are a tad ugly and scare casual readers who might find rational conservative policy an alternative ideology.

    Reply this comment
  7. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 15 June, 2012, 10:50

    Mr. Uhaul– The poor guy is a wreck— constant goofy irate poster =Poodle. I am sure the normal conservatives cringe….

    Reply this comment
  8. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 15 June, 2012, 11:05

    Teddy….only throught rest, reflection, meditation can such unhappy souls find purification, peace and happiness as compaasionate and giving citizens.

    Reply this comment
  9. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 15 June, 2012, 11:17

    Well said Senor U haul— Meditation may be the poodle’s key to achieving the unity of spirit that will allow his scattered mind to rest….

    If he does that, he, like all other sentient beings will truly realize that it is time to pack and ship.

    Ted

    Reply this comment
  10. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 11:30

    Wait util November 6, 2012- the Jerry Clown “The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012” AKA the “Public Pension Sales Tax And Fleecing Act of 2012” gets shot down in FLAMES BABY!!!!!!!

    I am throwing a party November 7, 2012, and all my buddies here are going to be invited, Teddy Steals and his alter ego “Queeg” are going to be my Guests of Honor 🙂

    Reply this comment
  11. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 11:31

    Double BAM BAM !!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  12. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 11:39

    Can you say San Jose 🙂

    If not try San Diego 😉

    3-1 margin of pension reform VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    (4-1 if you take out troughies)

    Now pay up, Clowns (or you won’t be invited to the party on 11-7-2012 😉 )

    Reply this comment
  13. David
    David 15 June, 2012, 12:15

    Good exposure of this thuggery. Thanks for writing it.

    Reply this comment
  14. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 15 June, 2012, 12:52

    Wonder….rent a cubicle next to yours.

    Bring lots of fried crow and yummy salsa….

    Reply this comment
  15. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 15 June, 2012, 13:10

    LOL Mr U Haul— I have personally seen the Poodle lose 6 predictions out here—– LOL—- no party yet !!! LOL ™

    Reply this comment
  16. Claire Voyance
    Claire Voyance 15 June, 2012, 14:17

    Any person who is the victim of a threat should file a police report and a complaint with the District Attorney.

    Reply this comment
  17. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 June, 2012, 15:45

    Partay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bam! 😉

    Reply this comment
  18. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 15 June, 2012, 21:31

    LOL ™ If he wins, he’ll be 1 for 6 !

    God this is just too easy….

    Reply this comment
  19. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 June, 2012, 00:08

    I am 6-1 now, this will be 7-1, and a Partay!!!!!!

    Double BAM BAM !!!!!! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  20. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 June, 2012, 06:45

    LOL— 6 and 1 ?? Thought you’d say that—– must be nice in your fiction world—- it’s 0 for 6 little buddy. Remember how you promised a party for the win in the county suit against the firemen and cops? You were soooo sure about the case law! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee….oh my that was fun……then you were s0 certain the Supreme Court would fix it for you??? Remember little buddy ???? We do…………LOL—— God this is easy ™

    Have a nice day!

    I am going off on a vacation for a few days you’re boring me to death! Please type now troll !!

    Reply this comment
  21. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 June, 2012, 07:10

    BAM!!!!!!!!!!!! 😉

    Reply this comment
  22. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 June, 2012, 08:35

    We need to get Beelz back here, it is dullsville beating up on Teddy with no one else to share in my victory dances 🙂

    Reply this comment
  23. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 June, 2012, 09:52

    Dull is perfectly acceptable. Reading sick posts unacceptable!

    Reply this comment
  24. Donkey
    Donkey 16 June, 2012, 11:24

    The RAGWUS has perfected the use of taxpayer money as a vehicle for their own enrichment. The only sloution is the decertify all public employee unions and bring these leeches back to Earth. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  25. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 June, 2012, 12:55

    John, Teddy is posting abusive comments again under his sock puppet account 😉

    Reply this comment
  26. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 June, 2012, 12:57

    Donkey..save your energy….Prop. 187 did you in and we will never forget!!!!

    Reply this comment
  27. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 June, 2012, 12:57

    Hey Donk, did you see that Fatty Rizzo had his pension slashed to $50K!!!!!!!!

    And that loser in Vernon who was receiving $550K per year had his slashed to $115K and he will have to PAY BACK the difference!!!!

    BAM!!!!!

    Oh, poor Teddy, he might only be getting $25K in pension when his turn comes around………….. Oh the humanity of it all 🙂

    Reply this comment
  28. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 June, 2012, 13:16

    Never wish ill of people in distress…someday you will face challenges…you will need courage and support!!”

    Reply this comment
  29. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 16 June, 2012, 14:23

    BAM BAM 😉

    Reply this comment
  30. Donkey
    Donkey 16 June, 2012, 14:37

    All the thieving RAGWUS feeders will be cut down to size Rex the Wonder Dog!! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  31. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 June, 2012, 21:38

    Do you really think the sky is falling?

    Gloom troughies…….eh?

    Reply this comment
  32. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 17 June, 2012, 00:23

    The sky fell, in San Jose and San Diego, and on November 6 it wil fall on Clowns tax hike

    Reply this comment
  33. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 17 June, 2012, 08:17

    In November all citizens will do the right moral thing. The tax increase will right California’s finances and save our safety net for the poor, sick
    and helpless.

    Greed troughies will come to their senses!

    Reply this comment
  34. Donkey
    Donkey 17 June, 2012, 09:05

    Hey Ted, the greed of the RAGWUS machine has reached the point to where no matter how high the taxes are raised your cabal will recieve no net increase in revenue. The future of the RAGWUS is only less my greedy little friend. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  35. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 17 June, 2012, 14:22

    Teddy on vacation with Queeg…..needed a time out!!!

    Reply this comment
  36. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 17 June, 2012, 15:55

    Teddy- would you like to back that LOSER prediction of yours up with a C-note 🙂

    Reply this comment
  37. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 17 June, 2012, 18:35

    Gambling is sorta tacky. Insistence on pushing Coyote Ugly behavior beneath all our posters. Lets agree to disagree and Wonder you can now dine at Del Taco on this special holiday!

    Reply this comment
  38. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 17 June, 2012, 19:44

    Beelzzzzzzzzzzzzz……….please HELP me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  39. TaxDog
    TaxDog 19 June, 2012, 10:15

    That hit list of blame by Burkforoakley was pretty low. The tactics and waste of tax dollars to educate the public to give more money should stop. This is the beginning of the public revote that is fed up with new taxes at every turn. Government needs to get lean and efficient with what they have.
    Remember that here in California every house sold for more than the county appraised value is a raise in revenue. This is why prop 13 is actually a good thing. Only a couple years’ since 1978 has been in affect the value of homes gone down. All the other years taxes went up. What government now needs to do is plan ahead for bad years instead of tax and spend everything only to ask for more.

    Reply this comment
  40. Kris Hunt, CoCoTAX
    Kris Hunt, CoCoTAX 19 June, 2012, 11:35

    Whenever you talk about pensions, remember it is the electeds who grant them.

    Reply this comment
  41. Rachel Dillon
    Rachel Dillon 19 June, 2012, 15:55

    You disgust me. Like I said, ride along with one of the engines and see the job they do. Why don’t YOU take a pay cut? Our teachers and public safety are always getting the crap end of the stick and im pretty damn tired of it. These men/women put their lives on the line for YOU, our ungrateful public. And stop feeding us the line about taxes because my property taxes have decreased SUBSTANTIALLY as have many others in the nation. Give up a coffee or two. A round of golf. Lunch or dinner w a friend. It all adds up but uet people complain that EMERGENCY services god forbid needs money to operate because the area has suffered a decrease in population therefore revenue. This article is biased and full of blatant lies and crap. No respected member of this district would EVER ask for the address of any of you liars, and you would know the level of dignity and respect they have if you would have stepped foot at the funeral of one of their own today. I have so much more to say but frankly, you’re not worth it. Your lies and the people who believe them are absurd. Keep living in your posh bubble, working at the tax association making endless dollars off people. You should be ashamed of yourselves! Stop playing the victims and making up lies about an imaginary hit list and take some damn accountability for your words!!

    Reply this comment
  42. Rachel Dillon
    Rachel Dillon 19 June, 2012, 15:59

    And how dare you use 9/11. These men and women are heroes. Unlike you who sits behind a desk all day, looking for things to talk crap about. These comments are supposed to be from mature adults? Seems like teens on Facebook. Sad.

    Reply this comment
  43. sbarr
    sbarr 19 June, 2012, 20:43

    Dave… In the interest of accuracy in reporting of information, there were four board memebers that wanted four stations to remain open.

    Reply this comment
  44. Dave Roberts
    Dave Roberts 20 June, 2012, 11:33

    sbarr, AKA Steve Barr, is one of the four board members who voted to keep four stations open. Unfortunately, they were outvoted 5-4.

    Rachel Dillon’s postings are good examples of the emotional, vitriolic, insulting arguments that were all too typical of the pro-fire tax side of the debate.

    Reply this comment
  45. DJ
    DJ 23 June, 2012, 01:18

    Dave, I guess your an “expert” in community EMS and Fire Protection. They (ECCFPD) definately asked for too much money, but can you honestly sit there and tell me that three (3) fire stations is plenty to cover a population of over 100,000 people and several hundred square miles? Please don’t mistake facts for threats. Here are the facts: Fire Stations will close, Medical and/or Fire Calls will get answered, but during peak times will be delayed, ISO and Insurance Companies will immediately increase rates for any property that is not sufficiently covered by an organized fire department. Sadly, businesses and commercial properties will bear the brunt of the rate increases. You stated a “hit list” was developed to give you (and others) credit for loss of property or lives. Not so fast, the credit goes to the voters, they decided what they want, and we will all live with their decision. Only time will tell if it was a good decision or bad one.

    Reply this comment
  46. Heliguy
    Heliguy 5 July, 2012, 08:26

    This seems simple enough. Reign in the pay and benefits. Par with the private sector. They contribute to a 401K type plan. With a small matched percentage. Medical coverage is equally divided between employer and employee.
    They work 24’s correct? What’s that equate to,12-16 days of work a month? Total.
    People always say ” they’re heroes!” But when does it end. What about the young heroes half a world away in the sand fighting For our protection and safety? They don’t have big comfy firehouses, air conditioning, half the month off.
    Cap the salaries and stick to what’s needed to fiscally survive without continually trying to extort the residents under the pretense of safety. If they don’t like it quit. There are NO Shortages of qualified people who will GLADLY take these positions in a heartbeat.
    I just feel bad for the residents, now you’ll have the possibility of a bunch of angry children dragging they’re feet out the door on every call trying to ” prove a point” on response times.

    Reply this comment

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