How and Why Orindans Are Being Taken Advantage Of By MOFD
Orinda taxpayers are subsidizing wealthy Moraga taxpayers $4 million a year, and that increases every year. This year alone it increased by $400,000.
The numbers below tell the story.
* Orinda’s population represents of 52% of the population served by MOFD.
* Orinda is served by 53% of MOFD’s firefighters, those stationed in Orinda.
These numbers have not changed in the 26 years that MOFD has served Orinda and Moraga.
But Orindans pay:
* 66% of the total tax funding MOFD, $10 million more than Moragans.
* 83% more per capita than Moragans.
For essentially the same service:
* 2,167 residents per firefighter in Orinda
* 2,288 residents per firefighter in Moraga
(Note: both Orinda and Moraga response units respond to about one emergency per day)
If Orinda residents were charged the same as Moraga residents for equivalent service, $587 per capita, Orinda would be paying MOFD $11.4 million, $9.3 million less than they are currently paying.
Why is Orinda paying so much more than Moraga?
When MOFD was formed, Orindans were paying $305 per capita, 44% more than Moragans who were only paying $212 per capita (which had been enough to operate the Moraga Fire Protection District). This generated an additional $1.6 million which was needed to upgrade Orinda’s depleted capital equipment.
But it was only needed for about two years. After that the equipment had been upgraded and half of the excess was an increase in MOFD’s revenue (above levels that Moraga operated at prior to the formation of MOFD) and half was a subsidy to Moraga to fund their half of the increase.
As the year’s progressed this “excess” continued to grow as Orinda’s property tax base, and thus its taxes to MOFD, increased faster than Moraga’s.
Over 25 years Orinda’s taxes to MOFD increased $15.3 million while Moraga’s only increased $7.3 million. Half of the $8 million excess Orinda paid went to increased MOFD costs, and half went to pay for Moraga’s share of the increase. This is the $4 million subsidy Orinda is now paying to Moraga. This is $4 million the Orinda City Council told the Orinda voters in 1997 they would never pay for service outside Orinda.
Myths for Why Orinda "Should" Pay More for MOFD Services
Myth #1 - Taxes Aren't Always Fair - The Wealthy Should Pay More.
When Prop 13 reorganized how property taxes were charged, the state was split into "Tax Rate Areas" (TRAs). The property taxes generated in each TRA (1% of assessed value) were allocated to the various services that they were used to provide for each TRA, including Fire Protection.
There are 12 TRAs in Orinda and 19 in Moraga (or areas served by the Moraga fire stations). When MOFD was formed in 1997 and the voters in Orinda were promised that Orinda tax dollars allocated to fire protection would be used for services in Orinda, all $4.8 million collected from Orinda's 12 TRAs were transferred from the County (ConFire) to the newly formed MOFD. If Orinda had decided to form its own fire department, instead of partnering with Moraga, that $4.8 million would have been transferred to the City.
There was no written agreement that the funds coming from Orinda would be used exclusively in Orinda other than locally elected board members who would adhere to what the voters were promised.
Unfortunately, that has not come to pass. And while the tax dollars from Orinda have increased from $5.4 million (including $600,000 from an additional parcel tax that is restricted for use in Orinda) in 1998 to $20.7 million today (a 185% increase), while Moraga's tax revenue has "only" increased 111%, the services are split today the same as they were in 1998. Orinda is served by 9 of 17 firefighters (53%) while providing 66% of the tax revenue.
THE FACTS ARE:
MOFD was never envisioned to have Orinda and Moraga throw their money in a pot and spend it wherever it was convenient. It was formed because both Orinda and Moraga were tired of having their tax dollars used elsewhere in the County and not where the taxes originated. The Orinda voter's pamphlet clearly promised Orinda voters that Orinda tax dollars WILL be spent in Orinda, not elsewhere in the county, not even in Moraga. The Moraga voters pamphlet also states that one of the reasons for forming MOFD was to use Moraga tax dollars in Moraga and not spend them elsewhere in the county, not even in Orinda.
In fact, Moraga was particularly worried about the poor condition of Orinda’s capital equipment and therefore insisted that Orinda adopt a parcel tax to supplement the existing property tax, even though at the time Orinda’s property tax for fire prevention, $4.83 million ($537,000 per firefighter for Orinda’s nine firefighters), was 40% greater than Moraga’s $3.02 million ($378,000 per firefighter for Moraga’s eight firefighters) while both cities received approximately the same service (2,000 residents per firefighter).
However, no mechanism was put in place for this allocation of tax dollars to be respected EXCEPT that the MOFD Board would be comprised of individuals elected locally who would (theoretically) look after their constituents’ best interests. But the MOFD Board members never kept track of where the tax dollars coming into MOFD originated (whether it be from Orinda taxpayers or Moraga taxpayers) nor how the expenses were accrued (whether it be for service to Orinda residents or Moraga residents). Neither did the Orinda City Council nor the Moraga Town Council keep track of the income and expense allocation or insist that the MOFD Board due what the voters were promised they would do.
Myth #2 - Orinda receives service from Moraga fire stations and thus should pay part of the cost of the Moraga stations in addition to the cost of the Orinda stations.
This argument was first presented by Chief Pete Nowicki at a 2009 Tri-Agency (Orinda, Moraga and MOFD) meeting backed up by maps showing "first responder" responsibilities. Engines and the ambulance stationed at Moraga's station 41 were responsible for incidents as far north into Orinda as Glorietta. At the time MOFD had 19 firefighters per shift, 11 in Orinda (58%) and 8 Moraga so the extra service that the Moraga firefighters supposedly provided to Orinda accounted for the fact that Orinda was paying 64% of the cost.
The facts, which did not come out for several years, were that the maps Nowicki used to "prove" that the 64% share of the cost by Orinda were reasonable, were no longer used to dispatch response units. Response units were equiped with GPS transponders so the closest unit was dispatched by ConFire's central dispatcher.
When the actual responses for MOFD units were tallied for 2009 by a citizen's group, it was determined that for the most part Orinda based units served Orinda and Moraga based units served Moraga. There was some "mutual aid" between Orinda and Moraga, but it was minimal with 95% of first responses to emergencies coming from the city where the incident occurred. Over the entire year, Moraga units responded to Orinda emergencies only 60 times and this was offset by Orinda units being first responder to Moraga emergencies 23 times. Note: This can be compared to the fact that in the same year MOFD sent equipment to outside the MOFD service area 145 times while ConFire alone sent 260 units into the MOFD service area. ConFire did not charge MOFD for this mutual aid service.
Myth #3 - Without Aid from Moraga, Orinda would be dangerously underserved.
In November 2012, MOFD Director Fred Weil, representing Moraga, addressed the Orinda Council and told them how Orinda's school children at Del Rey, OIS and Miramonte would be horribly at risk if service was not provided by responders from Moraga's Station 41 on Moraga Way. He was playing the "your children will burn" card.
The facts are:
* both OIS and Del Rey are closer Orinda's Station 44 than Moraga's Station 41
* Miramonte is closer to Moraga's Station 41 but it is only 4 minutes away from Orinda's Station 44.
* All of the area south of Orinda's Station 44 can be served by the responders from that station within the 6 minute response time benchmark without assistance from Station 41.
* Station 44 was first responder to only 176 emergencies in the year, one every other day.
* Moraga was first responder to another 60 emergencies in Orinda, a little more than one per week, which could be handled by Station 44 if mutual aid from Moraga was not available (or too expensive).
South Orinda, within 4 minutes of two separate MOFD stations, is the best served area in Orinda. For Orinda to be paying Moraga anything, much less $4 million a year, for this service is wasteful at best.