Orinda Tax Dollars Being Misdirected By MOFD in 2024
Increase to $4,300,000 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 increase another $300,000 to $4.3 million. Money that should be spent for safety enhancements to Orinda, namely wildfire prevention. In the 26 years MOFD has been in service, this excess funding has grown from $700,000 to $4.3 million because Orinda's tax base has increased 30% faster than Moraga's while service has remained constant.
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. Orinda was paying $600,000 per firefighter serving Orinda while Moraga was paying 30% less, $430,000.
At the time, however, 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.
But that deficit was made up in short order. In the first year of operation Orinda paid $700,000 in excess of its pro rata share of expenses. The discrepency increased each year as Orinda's property tax base, and thus taxes to MOFD, grew faster than Moraga's. By year four Orinda had paid over $3 million in excess of its share of expenses and the deficit had been erased.
By 2010 Orinda was paying $1.6 million a year in excess of what it cost MOFD to provide service. Then MOFD added a fourth response crew, a full time ambulance, to the Orinda staff even though Orinda only experienced about three emergencies per day for its existing three response units. This extra (unnecessary) expense reduced Orinda's excess funding to below $1 million but it continued to rise.
In 2014 MOFD's pension costs overwhelmed revenue so the Orinda ambulance was discontinued and the excess funding shot up to $2 million per year.
In 2019 it increased to $3 million and this year (2023) reached $4 million. Next year it will be $4.3 million.
The reason is that in the 27 years MOFD has been in service, the service has not changed; the percent of total property tax going to MOFD has not changed, but the property tax base in Orinda has increased 33% faster than in Moraga; 4.6 times what it was in 1998 compared with 3.7 times for Moraga. Therefore Orindans are paying 4.6 times what they were in 1998 while Moragans are paying 3.7 times, all for the same service.
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, 2023/24. 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 $4.3 million being misdirected within MOFD could be used to facilitate the removal of the threat.