LETTERS: MOFD Board Chairman Wyro Gives His Reasons for Acquiring New District Office Space

The Moraga-Orinda Fire District's board chairman explains why buying an administrative office building at 1150 Moraga Way makes good fiscal sense.


After a great deal of study on December 8, 2011, the Board of Directors of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District voted to purchase the building located at 1150 Moraga Way to be used as the administrative offices for the Fire District. The initial intent was to wait until Station 43, our first priority, was replaced (Station 43 is currently in the design phase) and Station 41, our second priority, was renovated prior to addressing administrative office inadequacies. But an opportunity to re-purpose the current administrative facility in Moraga and the availability of an adjacent office building prompted the Board to take advantage of a downturn in real estate and construction costs.

This decision was made after numerous public discussions on the options available to address the District office needs. The current administrative facilities are divided between two locations and do not meet access requirements for the disabled. Having the offices in two locations decreases efficiencies due to the additional staff needed for both offices.

While evaluating the Station 41 renovation, it was determined that the current on site administration facility could be re-purposed and reduce the cost of the renovation by $500,000. The current administrative space at Station 41 could also be used as temporary quarters during construction for additional savings. Without this approach, administrative office space for the employees assigned to the Moraga office and the training rooms would have to be relocated with no District facilities available. It was determined addressing administrative office needs prior to completing the station renovation will save the District money.

Over the past year the Board thoroughly reviewed options to address the administrative office needs and determined that purchasing 1150 Moraga Way would be in the best interest of the District, both in the short and long-term.

The District will require approximately half of the space available in the building. The facility will be used for administrative offices for District staff and will include a multi-use room both for training and community and District Board meetings. This room will also be available to other public agencies in need of meeting facilities. Our current administrative facilities are not ADA compliant and this plan will correct that issue. The efficiencies of a centralized staff will reduce personnel and equipment costs.

In deciding on 1150 Moraga Way, as it is more space than we need, we studied the market and alternative users for the remaining space and are confident of finding tenants. First choice is a public agency and that option is being pursued. We are also working with the commercial brokerage community.

The financial analysis has been exhaustive and thoroughly examined by community members, consultants, staff and the Board. In summary:

  • Consolidating administrative functions and training facilities will save $120,000 per year.
  • The cost of construction of Station 41 will be reduced by $500,000.
  • A tenant will generate $70-$80,000+ per year with escalators.
  • The annual payment will be $145,000 and paid off in 20 years or less.
  • Paying rent has no end, builds no equity and will increase.
  • The net annual benefit totals $200,000 - less the lease/purchase payment results in an increase in revenue of $55,000 ANNUALLY. And we own the building.

When the District was formed two specific funds were established:

  • The General Fund is financed by property tax and user fees. This fund pays for maintenance and operations of the district – primarily personnel costs, now 90% of the budget. Currently we contribute $3,000,000 toward unfunded liability out of a total General Fund of $18,205,000. We are working with our employees, who have not had a salary increase in over 4 years, on new ways to manage these costs. We must meet our salary and pension obligations from this fund.
  • The Capital Fund was established to pay for all capital expense, i.e. fire stations, equipment (primarily fire engines) and office space. This fund derives its revenue from the fire flow tax. The fire flow tax was not established for or ever meant to be used for operational expense, such as pension obligations. With the completion of the facilities, I hope to see funds become available to contribute to other community infrastructure needs.

Be assured that staff and the Board have been working diligently to provide the highest level of emergency medical and fire service as expected by the community in the most cost effective and efficient manner. For over a year we have continued to study the state of the economy, our financial obligations, budget, costs, alternatives, and impacts of the avenues available to us to meet our community’s needs. There have been public hearings and public input. We will continue to do what we feel is in the best interest of the community.

I have been serving on the District Board for 14 years and I promise we have studied and discussed this as much as anything we have ever done. We take this charge seriously and believe that given a thorough study of ALL the data, we made the correct choice in purchasing the building. Please note, these thoughts are mine and I cannot speak for the Board.

Most sincerely,

John Wyro
President, Board of Directors
Moraga Orinda Fire District

Josia December 30, 2011 at 04:09 AM
Now that the MOFD is in the business of speculative real estate, what contingencies are in place should this property end up cash flow negative? I assume the MOFD alone will take full responsibility.
c5 December 30, 2011 at 03:59 PM
and we wonder why we have big budget deficits.....
Richard Kline December 30, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Mr. Wyro, Serving on the district for 14 years is hardly a credibility statement in this case. Were you not President when ex-Chief Nowicki's gold plated pension was "studied" and approved? I believe one of the no votes was from the one firefighter on the board which I find very telling.
Larry Pines December 30, 2011 at 05:23 PM
So this is the same Mr. Wyro that voted to approve Captain Pete Nowiki's rapacious compensation contract, allowing the 51 year-old boss of 19 firefighters to retire last year with $241,000 per year of our hard-earned taxpayer monies? The same Board that made National news as the poster child for corrupt bloated administrative waste? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124804047828063059.html Yes, I'm sure this thrifty Board "studied" the acquisition of a burned out 9,300 sq.ft. office building to house it's 11 total administrative staff members (to "manage" 19 firefighters!) VERY carefully, before spending $ Millions more of the cash-strapped tax payer-funded District's money.... Why not build all new buildings?? We'll just pass the next huge Fire District parcel tax planned for November. Nice.
Carol Penskar December 30, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Mr. Wyro: You were on the MOFD board when the labor contract was approved that created the current pension and medical benefits retirement disaster: the 2003 contract. That is the one that implemented 3% @ 50, with full medical benefits, and inflation escalators. This contract, dated 12/9/03, was retroactive to 7/1/02. Within a few short years, the district was forced to issue a bond to cover part of its unfunded pension liabilities. The average MOFD employee makes over $140,000 per year, more than the Orinda average of $117,000. A new MOFD employee has 53 paid days off per year, when adding up vacation, sick, and paid holidays. An 11 year employee has 60 such days. The average MOFD retirement, (with no spiking at retirement) is about $127,000. The maximum social security benefit is $28,000. It is time for the Board to more strongly seek a significant contribution from MOFD employees to help alleviate the District's disastrous financial outlook. This is a much more sound course than speculating in real estate.
Lark Hilliard December 30, 2011 at 06:35 PM
How do get Mr. Wyro removed from the board. Although it would serve him right to see our firefighters and paramedics laid off so we can pay ex Chief Nowicki's outrageous pension.MOFD doesn't need to purchase an administration building. MOFD board needs to eliminate administration, not buy a big building which it will need to fill up. MOFD board needs to look at the next 20 years and cut, cut, cut just to pay for staff to serve us and to meet the unbelievable liabilities they've created.
Larry Pines December 30, 2011 at 08:50 PM
Mr. Hilliard and Ms. Penskar, while your comments and astute research and spot-on advice is all well taken, the electorate in Orinda and Moraga remain largely "asleep" on this (and other taxpayer theft) issue, and unless someone will create an organization to educate on the bloat, out-of-control waste, and ongoing defalcation of a corrupt Board, they will continue to get away with the gross mis-management as they have in the past. Orindan's especially, need to be made more widely aware of the scope of this folly, especially future catastrophic pension liabilties, on top of extreme top-heavy and misguided administration and management of a tiny fire fighting force of 19. On its face, acquisition and build out (to extremely costly government standards) of nearly 10,000 square feet building, to house an already too large admin. staff of eleven, is absurd. Any small company on earth can luxuriously house a staff of 11, in perhaps 2,000 square feet. Even with a public meet room, this building is thrice too large. We are letting our local agencies build Egyptian temples on our dime. Get the word out beyond comments on a local blog that relatively few will heed. If, after widespread publication of the Nowicki scandal in the Wall Street Journal, BANG pubs, and other local news media, the same Board members sit, something must be done to reach the voters and property owners. Let's be real. This agency deals with perhaps a couple of major structure fires per year.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) December 30, 2011 at 10:28 PM
"Ed" -- Your comment was deleted because it did not carry your full true name and went beyond the limits of our commenting guidelines. If you'd care to reassess and resubmit we'd be obliged. Ed.(itor)
Richard Kline December 31, 2011 at 01:38 AM
It is my opinion that the reason for the no vote from our firefighter board member is that the rank and file firefighters of MOFD are as disgusted as the taxpayers paying attention to this board. Mind you for different reasons, but equally repulsed. They fear that the frivolous spending will ultimately choke off their needs for the bassic tools of thier job and the viability of MOFD to pay for their retirement benefits.
Chris Nicholson December 31, 2011 at 02:30 AM
In the letter, Me. Wryo lost credibility with me when he pulled the classic "this pot of money / that pot of money" fallacy. MOFD money is fungible and comes from only one source: taxpayers. Expenditures either make economic sense, or they don't. Pointing to the existence of "extra" money in one pot and a deficit in another is a cheap sleight of hand. The ADA compliance issue is another "big gov't begets bigger gov't issue." And, in any case, I am quite sure that the rental alternatives would be ADA compliant. The argument that buying a new property saves money of ADA retrofits is another red herring.
Janet Maiorana January 01, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Mr. Pines is correct. Orinda electorate is largely asleep. However, since 2002 citizens have apprised the Orinda City Council (officials charged with looking out for electorate) of MOFD mismanagement. There's no explanation for Council members inaction? The council sits idley by thinking up 2012 Orinda tax payer road bond measures. If the council formed an Orinda Fire District, Orindans would save $1.43 million of the $2.2 million cost of the Moraga Administration building (Orinda pays 65% of MOFD revenue). Moraga will only pay $770,000 for the Moraga building. Mr. Wryo conveniently forgets to talk about MOFD's #1 priority, rebuilding Orinda St. Stephens Station . MOFD Directors opted to buy a Moraga building for 12 Adm. staff over Orinda St. Stevens emergency services building. If the Directors get a loan to rebuild St. Stephens Station, Orinda will pay 65% of huge borrowing costs. The city council fiddles while Orinda burns from fiscally irresponsible decisions. Mr. Wryo thinks this is a good time to buy real estate. Does he think prices will be artificailly inflated again? Prices are where they would have been if the real estate bubble had not been created. MOFD Board believes the new Adm. Staff building can rent for $70,000 or $80,000 annually. If Directors were held personally responsible for their decisions, they would not buy this building. Nor would they have made many past disastrous decisions for which taxpayers are now financially responsible..
Larry Pines January 18, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Kudos to the CC Times for their headline Editor's piece this morning condemning MOFD Directors Wyro, Weil and Sperling for rejecting overwhelming logic, common sense and public outcry, in approving going further into debt to buy and rehab a building more than twice as large as needed to manage 19 “part time” firefighters. As pointed out by the Times, this corrupt Board has "a history of reckless spending. They were part of the 2008 board that ignominiously put the fire district on the national map. Knowing that their then-Chief Pete Nowicki was about to retire, they approved benefit changes to his contract that helped him spike his pension by as much as 20 percent, increasing his annual retirement pay by about $40,000 to $241,000 a year." http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_19760319?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com I am curious though, while Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, previously an MOFD supporter, was present and critical of the Board for turning down a much more economical MOFD office rental at Orinda's vacant City office building (they're hemorrhaging our tax dollars too after spending $20 Mil on their new digs), where was Moraga's Mayor Metcalf standing up for Moragan's pocketbooks? What's in it for Moraga? A piece of what the commercial brokers call "deal flow"? This Wednesday evening, the MOFD Board will approve the financing for the deal -- and everyone in Ordina & Moraga should show up to give them a piece of their mind.
Chris Nicholson January 19, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Interesting to re-read this following subsequent events. Apart from this murky and out-of-context snippet: "less the lease/purchase payment," why no mention of a key element of the proposed deal: how it will be financed. It seems the silent truth (at least in this advocacy piece) was that the intent was to sell (and then rent) a fire station to generate the cash. Who was creating a "perceived reality" in this case (whatever that is or means)? This whole thing is just weird.
El Cucuy January 19, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Falling: MOFD's (flip flopping on strange real estate deals) Rising: CoCo Times' (ability to railroad $2 million in local gov't spending with a single editorial) Weird is right. Calling the stealthy public meeting when you know folks are likely to be on vacation (the week between Christmas and New Year's) made it feel like they were trying to sneak this thing through under cover of night. Then the righteous indignation of Weil and others as they axed the deal, and saying they buckled just because a "perceived reality" -- which one can only assume has something to do with the editorial in the local paper?! I guess the CoCo Times is more powerful than I thought! Kingmakers and dealbreakers. It just feels like these guys got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, and are utterly unrepentant as they slither away from this would-have-been boondoggle.
Janet Maiorana January 22, 2012 at 06:54 AM
Carol's comments got me thinking back to 2003 when 4 or 5 citizens protested to no avail, MOFD Directors ratifiying the 3 and 50 labor contract. A fireman would drive an MOFD vehicle to my Linda Evans Rheem step class, leave his radio on, and gear by the door in case of a call. Obviously, he was on duty but preferred classes at Lynda Evans to exercising in the new Rheem fire station gym tax payers provided. As I recall, the fireman retired, but upon learning Directors were going to make the 3 & 50 contract retro-active, he was re hired to take advantage of a pension system he had not paid into. One day he came to class and announced that after meeting with Human Resources, he was told he could make more money in retirement than working. He soon retired again. Of his 2 outside jobs while he was an MOFD fireman, he kept just one of those jobs after retirement. Another MOFD employee drives a tax provided MOFD vehicle to 24 Hr. Fitness to work out. I have told the Board I feel tax payers should not provide gyms in fire stations. Personnel should work out in public gyms, on their own time, their dime, and not use taxpayer vehicles to get there. Carol, rather than tryimg to negotiate with labor unions wouldn't it be better for O. City Council to detach from MOFD & form an Orinda Fire District? With Wilder & Pulte Orinda will pay close to 68% of MOFD expenses. Orinda City Council could stop this disastrous MOFD financial bleed by forming an Orinda Fire District.
Carol Penskar January 22, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Janet: two comments for your consideration: 1. Detachment does not obviate the pension obligation. Retirement obligations are the disaster scenario facing the district. Unless something is done, funding them will inevitably and very soon begin to reduce our services. Pressuring the MOFD to really do something about this should be your top priority. The Board is harming its constituents by not being more forceful. The County Sheriff, for example, is significantly ahead of MOFD on this. They now have a three tier arrangement. The firefighters must either agree to change their unsustainable current arrangement, or contribute a *lot* more to it themselves. They have been out of contract for about two years now. Doing nothing is to their advantage. The Board is twiddling its thumbs while Rome burns. 2. LAFCO isn't going to support your proposal. We will end up going back to the future with Con Fire. They would love to grab our money for their even more grossly under-underfunded retirement obligations. I have a lot of information on this from a very good source and am confident of my position on this. I recently gave Art Haigh a copy of an LAO report on this topic. Ask him for it. Read it.
Steve Cohn January 22, 2012 at 11:20 PM
I am a big fan of accountability and taking responsibility for your own actions and words and am willing to hang out there with a name you can find in the phone book but, I have to admit this has some accompanying risks that could drive some away which could rob us of some potentially good ideas. After voicing a particularly progressive comment once in a letter-to-the-editor I received in the mail an unmarked envelope with a copy of my comments cut into shreds with a rather derogatory note. Sort of shook me up. I contacted the paper. They apologized; said this sort of thing does happen; but tried to calm me down by saying they had never heard of such responses ever progressing past that point. J.D. (if you are editing and what does J.D. stand for? ;-) maybe there is some way for people to register with you nom-de-plumes (has a certain literary precedence - Mark Twain) leaving in your trust the true identity of the writer. Someone could come up with a complete bogus Fred Heldfedder and you wouldn't question his (or her) parentage.
Janet Maiorana January 23, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Carol. 1. I have told the city council that detachment allows Orinda to save money. If Orinda detached we would only pay our FAIR SHARE. We would save the 7 or 8%+ that we pay for Moraga. That sounds like a huge financial benefit for Orinda. 2. I would like to see your LAFCO report. When we talked with LAFCO we were given the distinct impression LAFCO would support detachment and an Orinda Fire District.. They do not like seeing a community ripped off. In 1997, LAFCO did not interfere with Orinda leaving the control of the county. Has their policy changed since 1997?


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