About 75 people braved the cold and attended the fire station closure meeting on Tuesday night at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall. ConFire Chief Daryl Louder fielded questions from residents about a number of topics, including how to keep the station open, and firefighter pensions.
The meeting Tuesday was the second of four meetings scheduled over the closures, which have now taken place in Lafayette, Martinez and Walnut Creek. The Clayton station will remain open on a part-time basis.
The crowd on Tuesday was polite, but not all were happy with Louder’s answers.
He explained that the Station 16 was one of four that had to close to make up $3 million of an overall $17 million deficit in the Consolidated Fire budget, due to declining property tax revenues. He cautioned that, absent new operational models or new income sources, more stations will have to close.
The failure of Measure Q, which would have imposed a $75 parcel tax on residents in the nine Con Fire cities and unincorporated county, means there is not enough money to operate all of the stations.
But the closures do not mean layoffs, Louder said, in response to a question.
“We will not be laying anybody off,” he said. “We will absorb them into the system.”
In answer to another question about the possibility of rising fire insurance rates, Louder said that it was unlikely to happen in the near future. He said fire insurance rates are usually evaluated on a home being within 5,000 feet of a fire hydrant and five miles from a station, a criteria Lafayette residents meet.
“I’d be willing to give you more revenue if you managed the cost side better,” said a resident, noting that the district had a high unfunded pension liability. “At age 52, a firefighter can retire with 90 percent of his salary.”
“I can tell you that in 2008, the district had pension liability bonds, and we not only had zero pension liability, we actually had a credit.” Louder said he did not know what the current pension figure was.
Another man wanted to know why residents couldn’t pay into a special fund that would only serve Lafayette residents and reopen Station 16.
“I was under the impression that this meeting was about how to get this station open again,” the man said. “I think anyone in this area would contribute a tax to open this station. But the stipulation would be that any money we pay into it would have to go to our station. I don’t want to support you as a whole. I want to support my neighbors.”
Louder noted that tax revenues supporting the fire district come from all the cities in the district.
“We are not a city agency,” he said. “We share resources from Antioch to San Pablo, and from Walnut Creek to Martinez. We don’t have duplicity or redundancy. The system does work. We have one administration, one training academy, one Emergency Medical Services component. We serve over 300 square miles. But the resources belong to the entire district."
He noted that, even with the closure of Station 16, Lafayette residents have the second-highest service level in the district, with one station per 12,000 population.