MOFD was formed in 1997 by a vote of the people which was called by the County Board of Supervisors at the request of the Orinda City Council and the Moraga Town Council. In the voters’ pamphlet for that election (November 3, 1997), the Orinda City Council, duly elected representatives of the residents of Orinda, told the Orinda voters that if they voted to create MOFD that this would “Insure that fire protection dollars Orindans pay will stay in Orinda.” By “stay in Orinda” it will be assumed they meant used for services in Orinda.
Has that promise been kept? No. While the residents and taxpayers of Orinda are receiving about 53% of the services MOFD provides (9 of the 17 firefighters on a shift are stationed in Orinda), Orinda taxpayer are providing 65% of MOFD’s tax revenue ($16.2 million out of $25 million). While each firefighter position costs MOFD about $1.5 million, Orinda taxpayers pay $1.8 million for each firefighter stationed in Orinda while Moraga taxpayers only pay $1.1 million. In total, Orinda is subsidizing Moraga’s emergency services with $3 million tax dollars per year.
Three million Orinda tax dollars are NOT staying in Orinda as the City Council promised.
Why not? Because Orinda’s elected representatives to the MOFD board are not demanding that Moraga pays its fair share ($1.5 million per firefighter stationed in Moraga) AND the Orinda City Council is not demanding that Orinda’s MOFD Board Members take action.
Is there a solution? Yes, and for the most part it is simple. Both Orinda and Moraga taxpayers pay a parcel tax to MOFD. The tax “rate” is set each year as a number of “cents” which is then applied to each property. The rate is currently six cents and generates $600,000 in tax from Orinda and $475,000 tax from Moraga. However, while the Orinda tax is capped at six cents, the Moraga tax can go as high as 30 cents. If the Moraga tax was increased to 30 cents, then its total tax would increase from $1.1 million per firefighter to $1.33mm, solving over half of the shortfall. All it would take would be a $1.1 million expense savings for Moraga to fully fund its emergency services. How could it save $1.1 million per year? It could staff its ambulance with paramedics instead of firefighters or it could reduce the engine crew in one of its stations from 3 to 2.
What arguments have been used in the past to suggest that there is no need to increase taxes to Moraga and services in Orinda?
* The Battalion Chief, whose office is in Orinda, is an Orinda firefighter and thus Orinda has ten of 18 firefighters. The Battalion Chiefs are obviously part of the District’s administration just as the Chief is and the Fire Marshall. To claim that they are firefighters dedicated to service in Orinda does not need to be considered anything more than a desperate attempt to wish the problem away.
* Moraga based firefighters provide significant support to incidents in Orinda. Operation statistics show that while Moraga-based responders provide mutual aid to Orinda, Orinda-based responders provide equivalent reciprocal mutual aid to Moraga.
* Taxes aren’t fair. Maybe so, but one of the major reasons Orinda voters voted to leave service by ConFire was to gain control of millions of dollars of taxes (currently $15.6 million in 2018/19) paid as property taxes. The County agreed that Orinda could control those taxes and reallocated 100% of them from ConFire to the new MOFD. And the MOFD Directors determine how those taxes are used, whether it is for service to Orinda or service to Moraga.