MOFD Fire Flow Parcel Taxes
The property owners in Orinda and Moraga (and unincorporated Moraga and Canyon) served by MOFD pay what is known as a “fire flow” parcel tax to MOFD. The tax is based on a formula including the square footage of structures on the property plus other factors (fire sprinklers). It also includes a “rate” set each year by the MOFD Board of Directors.
There are actually two separate taxes. One is for Moraga, approved by the voters in 1992 prior to the formation of MOFD. The other is for Orinda, approved by the voters in 1997 when MOFD was formed by joint agreement of Orinda and Moraga voters.
There is a separate “rate” for each of the two taxes. Historically the rate for each tax has been the same but that is not a requirement. Each tax has a separate rate “cap”. For Moraga the cap is 30 “cents” while for Orinda it is only 6 “cents”.
Last year, and for most of MOFD’s history, the Board set the rate for both the Orinda and the Moraga tax at 6 cents. The rate is set about June of each year so the Assessor’s office can include it in the next year’s tax bills. The discussion of setting this tax (last year) was very brief. From the minutes of that meeting (June 15, 2022) the entirety of the discussion was:
“Director Jorgens commented that the fire district happens to be a place where the two cities intersect. Moraga and Orinda pay the same property taxes and the same amount toward the fire district. The services provided by the fire district are equivalent throughout the District. Vice President Danziger agreed. The staff report showed that the amounts are equitable between the two cities.”
There were several statements included in that discussion that need to be examined.
1) “Moraga and Orinda pay the same property taxes and the same amount toward the fire district.” First of all, the City of Orinda and the Town of Moraga do not pay the taxes. The property owners living in Orinda and Moraga pay the taxes. Second, the residents in these two communities DO NOT pay the same amount toward the fire district.
This year the 7,252 households in Orinda will pay approximately $20.1 million in ad valorem property taxes, $2,800 per household. The (approximately) 5,650 households in Moraga (and Canyon) will pay approximately $10.3 million in ad valorem property taxes, $1,800 per household. 65% of what the Orinda households pay. These two tax levels are not even close to the same amount. District-wide, the tax revenue per household is $2,350, $450 less than what Orindans pay and $550 more than what Moragans pay.
2) “The services provided by the fire district are equivalent throughout the District.” This is approximately true. There are nine firefighters stationed in Orinda serving Orinda’s 7,252 households; 805 households per firefighter. There are eight firefighters stationed in Moraga serving Moraga and Canyons 5,650 households; 706 households per firefighter. Moraga might get slightly better service; but only slightly. (While there are a few more firefighters per household in Moraga, the service is equal because of the very low volume of calls.) The service costs MOFD more in Moraga ($2,600 per household) than Orinda ($2,300 per household), but Moragans pay less ($1,900 per household vs. $2,850 in Orinda).
3) “The staff report showed that the amounts are equitable between the two cities.” The staff report did not attempt to show any true measure of equitability. All it showed is that $554,504 of Parcel Tax funds would be coming from “the Orinda Zone” while $542,296 would be coming from “the Moraga Zone”. Firstly, the Parcel Tax money is the tip of the MOFD revenue iceberg. From the tax payer’s perspective, there is no difference between Parcel taxes and Ad Valorem taxes. They are all taxes going for a single purpose, service from MOFD. Secondly, the Orinda “Zone” and the Moraga “Zone” need to be explained. They are not equivalent to Orinda and Moraga.
Before MOFD was formed, 750 homes in South Orinda, the Ivy Drive neighborhood, were served by the Moraga Fire Protection District (MFPD). The reason being, it was just a close to Moraga’s Station 41 as it was to Orinda’s Station 44, plus, MFPD provided better service (paramedics on engines and a local ambulance) that ConFire provided to Orinda (which was the reason Orinda wanted to form MOFD). So when the homes served by MFPD voted to tax themselves extra to provide a superior service, this included the 750 homes in South Orinda.
But now Orinda is underserved (or overcharged) because a significant portion of its taxes go to provide service to Moraga. And if a disaster, like a wildfire, were to impact Orinda because of this underservice, all of Orinda, including the 750 homes in the “Moraga Zone” would be impacted. Moraga would not.
Therefore, in order to measure whether, in fact “the amounts are equitable between the two cities”, the parcel taxes paid by Orindans in the Moraga Zone ($61,000) need to be credited to Orinda and combined with the “Orinda Zone” Parcel Taxes and the Orinda Ad Valorem Taxes to calculate the total tax from Orinda property owners to MOFD, $20.7 million ($2,850 per household). And this is compared to $1,900 per household paid by Moraga property owners, again 2/3 as much, for equivalent service. On top of this, since there are more firefighters per household in Moraga, the cost to MOFD to serve Moraga is $2,600 per household (8 firefighters serving 5,650 households) vs. $2,300 per household (9 firefighters serving 7,250 households) in Orinda.