[Measure] Q is for Question

Question: Did your property tax bill go up or down in 2012?

One of the talking points used by the Yes on Q campaign is that declining property values have led to reduced property taxes, so residents should have no problem paying higher taxes. This argument is as incorrect as it is cruelly insensitive to the financial distress experienced by many Contra Costa families and small business owners. It is also insulting to taxpayers who object to the County Fire District’s track record of fiscal mismanagement and budget-busting pension benefits.

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Nevertheless, County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff is fond of saying her annual property taxes have dropped by ~$1,000 so she has plenty of money to pay new taxes. After removing the foot from her mouth, Mitchoff might stop to consider what a limited viewpoint her statement reflects. She apparently assumes that everyone in the county is similarly situated financially and has experienced like tax reductions. In addition, she must believe that others share her zeal for paying more taxes to fund pensions.

As fate would have it, Contra Costa property tax bills will be mailed soon – at roughly the same time that sample ballots will hit mailboxes. So now’s a good time to compare your property tax bill to last year’s to test Mitchoff’s hypothesis. Or you can compare this year’s tax bill with past years using the Assessor’s Office online lookup.

Once you’ve checked the facts, take the online poll above and tell us whether your property taxes have gone up or down. Before voting this is one question that should be answered, whatever your position on Measure Q.

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Author: Wendy Lack

Wendy Lack worked in city government human resources management for over 25 years. Wendy blogs on Contra Costa Bee on local government. Her articles have been published at American Thinker, Fox and Hounds Daily, WatchDogWire.com and other blogs focused on California politics and local government. Wendy has a B.S. in Public Affairs from the University of Southern California and an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University, San Francisco. She lives in Contra Costa County, California and can be contacted at wendymlack@gmail.com.

24 thoughts on “[Measure] Q is for Question”

  1. ConFire participates in the county retirement system, CCCERA, whose Board meeting on Tuesday, October 30th, should have lots of fireworks. The meeting will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and begins at 8:30am.

    See meeting agenda here: http://www.cccera.org/agendas/agendas%202012/agenda%2010.30.12.pdf

    See Borenstein commentary regarding the Board’s meeting here:

    Too bad the CCCERA Board refuses to audio or video tape its meetings so that employees, member agencies and the general public can stay abreast of ongoing developments (see also: http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/public-pension-transparency-cccera-flys-under-radar/).

    Perhaps ConFire personnel and others will urge the Board to record its meetings so that everyone has access to information about this $5 billion county agency. It seems like the least they could do in the interest of transparency and accountability.

  2. Last night the Pleasant Hill City Council endorsed Measure Q, the Pension Parcel Tax (3-1 vote with Councilmember Weir dissenting). From the Council discussion it was apparent that the Council’s vote was a political favor to county supervisor (and former PH Councilmember) Karen Mitchoff. After all, the short list of Measure Q endorsements has got to be pretty embarrassing for the sups.

    At last night’s meeting, when one of the Fire District representatives stated that District employees consider themselves to be shepherds and the public their flock, I was left feeling fleeced. While it was no doubt well-intended, this remark is off-putting because it evidences a worldview in which “government officials know best” and people are dependent, stupid sheep who must be told what is good for them.

    Vote NO on Q.

  3. Brian, I’m not sure how many different ways I can make the same point. What I’m saying is that Fire Department employees shouldn’t be paid overtime unless they actually work overtime – more hours than they’re scheduled. Under the current contract they get paid overtime for anything that isn’t scheduled. They/You can take the entire week off, work one “non-scheduled shift”, and get paid time and one-half for that one day – 36 hours for 24 hours of work and sleep.

    When you add that 36 hours to the the 56 hours then you are getting paid for 92 hours – for 24 hours of actual work. That is the main reason overtime costs are so ridiculous.

    Is it true that This Fire Departments employees get a 3% COLA? Who gets that? Do you have any idea how much additional tax dollars need to be diverted to fund a 3% COLA. It really represents a 50% increase above and beyond the very generous CalPERS 2% COLA. Do the math, Brian, and you will see how fast a 3% COLA increases a 120k pension. I’ll help you, in only ten years that 120K pension grows to over 160K per year. By year 18 that same pension is 204K per year.

    “Brian October 4, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    “So I am clear with your thought process, do you suggest that the Fire Department not staff and shut down Fire Companies when employees call in sick or have vacation days? Or is it your suggestion to hire above the minimum number of employees…”

  4. Measure Q is yet another effort by Sacramento to raise funds for a worthy cause (fire protection) while ignoring the reasons (unreasonable union contracts and unfunded pension obligations) that have lead to a deterioration of needed services.

    Until governmental agencies on a city, county and state level deals with the fundamental problems that has lead to present day shortage of fire rescue services, new soruces of revenue such as Measure Q should not ber considered.

    1. This is a local measure, but the sentiments are the same. This is a pension issue. No matter how they dress it up, the immense cost of pensions and retiree health care is driving the operational costs in this district.

  5. “The District is running very lean, down over 30 positions. When the district is able to hire again, overtime costs will decrease and benefit costs will increase.”

    Brian, benefit costs are already increasing at an alarming rate. Your comment that, “When the district is able to hire again, overtime costs will decrease” couldn’t be further from the truth. The inverse is true. You do NOT understand. The truth is, “When the district is able to hire again”, both Benefit costs and Overtime costs will increase.

    1. Steve, the PERMANENT OVERTIME account is budgeted by the Chief for the current and next 3 years at $10.8 million dollars. Salary dollard are only $36 million. So, it would appear that PERMANENT OVERTIME is a fixture (oh, yes, after the four years it jumps in cost to over $11 million. – it does not go away!)

    2. So I am clear with your thought process, do you suggest that the Fire Department not staff and shut down Fire Companies when employees call in sick or have vacation days? Or is it your suggestion to hire above the minimum number of employees to cover those vacancies so the department does not have to backfill with Overtime to fill those openinings? Remember this is not a business. The Fire department is a 24 hour/ 7 day a week operation. All of you are liars if you say that you wouldn’t want the Fire Department to come when your house is on fire, or when your family member isn’t breathing. Slam the firemen all you want, but they will continue to respond to take care of all of you and risk their lives to save you and your property whether this tax passes or not.

  6. “Steve, just for clarification, all suppression personnel work a 56 hour work week, and do not get paid OT for the extra 16 hours worked every week. Any hours past those 56 hours already worked are paid in overtime.”

    Brian, your work week is 56 hours so I wouldn’t expect overtime to be paid for working the required amount hours. What I was trying to point out is that you get paid overtime even if you only work one shift, or two shifts. The typicall contract clause states that suppression personnel will be paid overtime for ANY NON-SCHEDULED shift.

    My point is that the contract language is BOGUS and needs to be changed. People should only be paid OT if they actually work EXTRA hours. AND, because of the very nature of the FD’s work schedule, and the fact that employees have basically signed -up for a job that requires 24 hour coverage, paying people additional compensation under the sham contract clause that they should be paid extra even if they don’t actually work extra hours is BALONEY.

    Other cities are beginning to address this issue.

  7. This is the best summary of the issues that I’ve seen this political season . . . it’s one political ad that’s pithy and to-the-point:


    Officially non-partisan local government posts, aren’t. Political affiliation is an indicator of one’s worldview, values and perspective that candidates bring to the job. It matters.

    To prove the point, one need look no further than the county’s history, the long line of Democrat-dominated Contra Costa County Supervisors whose decisions have led to the county’s present near-bankrupt state. Per the Peter Principle, many of these individuals have gone on to higher office to wreak havoc on a larger scale. Egads, no wonder California is drowning in red ink.

  8. Steve,
    Lets not forget that out those 56 hours that Brian brings up, thirty percent of the time they are sleeping at $50 dollars plus an hour. Be thankful that out of the 16 hours overtime only 5 or six are of sleeping at only straight pay. Just in case you missed that point.

    1. Voter 26, aka voter 8026, aka ???-
      Must be nice to post unsubstantiated statements like they are the truth. You have no factual basis to back up your statement and you know it. Quit the hyperbole, and please stick to facts. Firefighters do indeed sleep on duty if call volume allows after 9PM, however many nights crews are up running calls. You obviously have no interest in the facts, but for the rest of the readers, there are only 3 firefighters on per shift per Fire Station. I won’t even try to reason with the unreasonable like yourself, because you have no intention of having an open mind to thoughts other than your own. But, for the other readers, Fire Suppression station locations and staffing exist to provide the best possible coverage for Structure Fires or Vegitation Fires threatening structures. Fire Units responding to Car Accidents, Medical Emergencies, Rope and trench rescues, are all added services that the fire department provides. The fire department will always be there for you and anyone else in our community at their time of need.

    2. I’m sorry Brian, I guess it is presumptive of me to conclude that firefighters sleep while being paid. Do you have proof that they stay awake for 56 hours while being paid? Listing station locations and being there for the public has nothing to do with this subject. It is the job of the fire service to be there. This is why we already pay taxes. The problem is over spending, double dipping, pensions, debt, and costly perks. Stick to the subject and stop trying to make firefighters Madonna’s. Everyone knows and respects the work done by emergency personnel. The issue is over compensation and debt that needs to be addressed before asking the public to pay more for poor decisions of the district, union, and board of supervisors. Get over yourself and try to concentrate on the real issue. The public is broke, firefighters are overpaid, the union and politicians have promised pensions that the public can’t afford. No on Q is the only response to correct the problem.

  9. I think Johnie brings up a good point regarding overtime pay. Fire departments have a “Special Deal” that allows them to be paid overtime for “any non-scheduled shift”. Essentially a FD employee can take the week off – work one non-scheduled shift, and get paid there regular pay plus the additional shift at time and one-half. That is how overtime comp goes through the roof.

    In the example I mentioned the employee only works 24 hours and is paid for those 24 hours at time and one half, for a total of 36 hours. It doesn’t matter that the employee took the week off because he/she will still be paid their 48/52/56 hours plus the additional 36 hours. So, for working one “unscheduled shift” while taking two days off the employee receives 84 hours of pay – for 24 hours of work.

    The issue is the contract language in FD contracts that guarantees overtive wages for working non-scheduled shifts. This is why FD employees have astronomical overtime compensation. It isn’t because they work extra hours – it is because they have contract language that pays extra .

    1. Steve, just for clarification, all suppression personnel work a 56 hour work week, and do not get paid OT for the extra 16 hours worked every week. Any hours past those 56 hours already worked are paid in overtime. Many times these “overtime” hours are people than don’t even want to work those shifts, and would rather go home to their families, also known as Mandatory Overtime. The District is running very lean, down over 30 positions. When the district is able to hire again, overtime costs will decrease and benefit costs will increase.

    2. Either way Brian the costs are out of control and the responsible parties, The Board of Supervisors and The Union know this is unsustainable even with a new tax yet they ignore solving the problem. A clear message of NO needs to be sent to force reform and correction before throwing more at the wasted bonds purchased and the uncontrolled pension.

  10. “Nevertheless, County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff is fond of saying her annual property taxes have dropped by ~$1,000 so she has plenty of money to pay new taxes.”

    Wouldn’t that imply that the assessed value of her home has decreased by $100,000? The County Supervisors logic here is very scary.

    1. @Steve:

      Astute observation on your part.

      BTW, unless you attend county supervisors meetings regularly, you may have no idea how scary their thinking is in a wide range of areas. (It’s all about politics and power rather than responsible governance.)

  11. Kit,

    I never applied for a job with Con(Artist)Fire and will never do so. I have no interest in a career that is suited for functionally retarded goons who enjoy screwing taxpayers.

  12. the CCC Fire dept (Measure Q) $75 parcel tax is just ONE of the many tax measures that will deplete our budgets: Measure A, the CC Community College District parcel tax $11 has no merit. Ironically the district just put out a $10 – $15M bid for a student services remodel (project labor agreement required which will raise cost of project by 12% to 18%. ) Many school districts like my Antioch Unified school district are on the ballot this year seeking more money and then there’s Prop. 30 – Gov. Brown’s sales and tax initiative.
    Good grief – do they want to bankrupt us?

  13. Over in East County it’s business as usual. ECCFPD tax failed and now the board will consider paying itself stipends. ECCFPD new tax sales pitch was calling them a poor fire district and they continue to keep spending frivolously. Where is the fiscal responsibility in our government gone? They cry poor house, they spend a hundred thousand to put a new tax measure on the ballot screaming they are totally out of money and will close stations. The tax fails overwhelmingly, and wants to start paying themselves after volunteering for free. Holy cow! I’ve seen everything now. I can’t wait for them to ask for a tax again so I can say NO.

  14. @Johnnie- so sorry that you couldn’t pass the psychiatric exam and get hired with Con Fire, by all of your dirty comments and childish name calling it’s no wonder that Con Fire didn’t hire you. Have a nice day.

  15. File Bankruptcy.

    Terminate pension contracts (or pay 10 cents on the dollar).

    Hire non-union firefighters who will gratefully accept 50% lower salaries, overtime limits, and 401-K with NO employer matching contribution.

    P.S. Can I get a framed copy of the template for the upcoming firefighter layoff notice that will be used after Measure Q fails? Hahahahahahaha. What goes around, comes around, jerks.

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