Statement by Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Randall Bradley in response to a local group's recent, critical analysis of district management. The "Orinda Emergency Services Task Force" was driven, in part, by local resident Steve Cohn.
From Chief Bradley:
I have been directed by the MOFD Board to conduct an analysis of Steve Cohn’s 90 page report and develop and executive summary of my findings. I plan to provide the Board with my summary within 30 to 45 days. I will be working with our auditors, actuaries and standards of cover consultants to ensure I provide a balanced and objective review. With that said, based on a cursory review of the report the following is my initial reaction and thoughts.
The group that published this report is basically the same group (Mr. Cohn) that predicted two and a half years ago that the District would have an extra $60 million dollars to pay for Orinda roads. He also proposed that the District should contract with the Contra Costa County Fire District (they will shut down six stations if their parcel tax fails) and utilize a private ambulance company for ambulance services. Now he is asserting that we are bankrupt and $700 million in debt. In the past (we have read Mr. Cohn’s $700 million debt assertion before), our professional actuaries did not agree with Mr. Cohn’s numbers.
I believe these communities value their schools, open space and quality fire and EMS services (public safety), then roads and infrastructure, in that order. I believe the intent of the report was to try to influence that value system by discrediting the Fire District and placing the improvement of roads and infrastructure above quality fire protection and EMS. I have heard Mr. Cohn say that he does not care if his home burns down….I do not believe these communities agree with that value system. I believe the District has a mandate to protect these communities and provide urban service levels in an area with semi-rural housing densities. The citizens want their open space and a fire engine within six minutes 90 percent of the time with well-trained firefighter paramedics on the fire engines and ambulances. We accomplish this by strategically locating five fire engines and two ambulances throughout our District. It is an expensive proposition but we have been able to meet that expectation with no service level reduction throughout the largest recession since the great depression. It should also be noted that in Orinda we a have one of the worst wildland urban interface fire problems in the country.
Our Firefighters have not received pay raises in four years or health care increases for almost three years (labor costs are 90% of our budget). In that same time we have reduced overhead costs dramatically by eliminating a Fire Marshal, secretary, full time nurse, communications specialist and reserve firefighter coordinator. We have also reduced costs by renegotiating service contracts, changing how we administer our employee benefits, and renegotiating chief officer employment contracts.
Mr. Cohn continues to argue there is an inequity between Orinda and Moraga
- We are one District and Orinda benefits by the economies-of-scale that are created by one District.
- After the completion of the Fire House in Orinda the District will have spent approximately $8-9 of the $12 million expenditures in fire flow tax dollars in Orinda (Moraga Pays the same amount of Fire Flow taxes as Orinda).
- If you include the approximate 700 Orinda homes that are served by Moraga Fire Stations the revenues are very close to being equal.
- Everyone pays 1 percent of assessed property values in property taxes…post proposition 13…true property tax equity is elusive. Your next door neighbor probably pays different property taxes based upon when he/or she purchased their home.
Like most public agencies the District has accrued unfunded liabilities due to our pension system’s (the District inherited this pension system when it was formed) failure to achieve expected return on investments and the 2002/2008 stock market losses. None of our current Board members voted for our current pension formula (3% @ 50) that has contributed to the unfunded liabilities. We have also accrued unfunded liabilities due to retiree healthcare, a program we also inherited with unfunded liabilities when the District was formed.
We have been working for over two years on a sustainable labor agreement and for over a year on a plan that we believe will address our unfunded liabilities over the next 13-15 years without a reduction is service levels. After the reported is completed I will present the report to our Board for public review, comment and hopefully adoption. The District understands that we must develop a system that is sustainable and that we need to address our pension system (Pension reform will help) and our other retiree medical benefit liabilities. The Board is committed to developing a sustainable fire protection and EMS program that the public deserves and expects.