Millions of Orinda Tax Dollars Are Being Misdirected By MOFD
Putting Orinda’s Safety At Risk
Orinda partnered with Moraga to form MOFD in 1997 for one main reason; to use the property tax dollars allocated to fire protection and emergency medical service in the City they came from: Orinda tax dollars in Orinda and Moraga tax dollars in Moraga. The voters’ pamphlets in Orinda and Moraga were very clear about this.
However, no mechanism was put in place to guarantee that this would happen. And no one, at MOFD, in Orinda or Moraga ever kept track of where the tax dollars came from or went to. And what has happened is that now millions of Orinda tax dollars are being used in Moraga: not what Orinda voters were promised and not what Moraga residents ever expected.
This year the amount being spent outside Orinda has passed the milestone of $4 million. Money that should be spent for safety enhancements to Orinda, namely wildfire prevention.
The tax dollars going to MOFD come from property taxes. When Proposition 13 was passed in 1978 two things happened: (1) The tax rate was fixed at 1% of property assessed value and (2) the share of the tax “pie” going to various purposes (the City, the County, the schools, fire protection, etc.) was fixed based on current spending.
Across Contra Costa County the percent of the “pie” going to fire protection averaged 12%. But in Orinda, the share was almost twice as much (23%) and in Moraga 19%. This was because we required more firefighters per capita to provide reasonable response times to our spread-out, semi-rural communities.
The first year MOFD was formed (1997/98), MOFD was funded with $5.4 million of property taxes from Orinda and $3.5 million from Moraga and Canyon. Orinda was served by 9 firefighters in three stations while Moraga was served by 8 firefighters in two stations. Most of the cost of operating the district is employee salaries and benefits, so dividing the cost on the basis of firefighters serving each city is reasonable. In 1997/98 Orinda’s share of the total cost funded by taxes ($8.9 million) would have been $4.7 million, $700,000 less than what Orinda was paying.
At the time, there was a reason for the discrepancy. When MOFD was formed, Orinda’s equipment and stations had been neglected so Orinda needed to pay more than its proportionate share to upgrade equipment. An accounting was made in 2009 of the deficit which added up to $4.2 million.
In the second year of operation, Orinda property tax contribution to MOFD again exceeded its proportionate share, but the excess grew from $700,000 to $770,000. And the next year to $840,000 and the fourth year to $930,000.
By year 5, 2002, the excess had grown to over $1 million and, in aggregate, added up to $4.2 million, the total deficit Orinda came into the partnership with. At this point all of Orinda’s tax dollars should have been devoted to service in Orinda. They were not. They were not even accounted for to see what they were or where they were spent.
The main reason for the continual growth in the discrepancy was that Orinda’s tax base, what property taxes are based on, kept growing faster than Moraga’s.
And this has continued for 25 years. Since 1997 Orinda’s tax base has grown by $6.8 billion, from $2.1 billion in 1997 to $8.9 billion, while Moraga’s has “only” grown $3.9 billion. This $3 billion difference in growth, exacerbated by the fact that 23% of Orinda’s property taxes go to MOFD while 19% of Moraga’s do, has caused Orinda’s increase in taxes to MOFD to exceed Moraga’s by $8 million a year. And MOFD has figured out how to spend the entire $8 million without substantially increasing service to either Orinda (still served by 9 firefighters) nor Moraga (still served by 8 firefighters). So now, Orinda is overpaying by $4 million and Moraga is underpaying by $4 million, making up the $8 million shift in tax revenue.
MOFD is aware of this. Orinda is aware of this. Each year a letter is sent to them documenting that year’s increase. Attached is the letter for the coming year, 2022/23. And yet, no one does anything about it even though Orinda’s risk of threat of wildfire increases and it is known and the one thing that could decrease that threat is the reduction of built-up vegetation which the $4 million being misdirected within MOFD could be used to facilitate the removal of the threat.