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

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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