MORAGA -- The Moraga-Orinda Fire District has agreed to mediation in an effort to restart contract negotiations with its firefighters.

In a news release late Friday afternoon, Chief Stephen Healy said district officials agreed on Thursday to retain a mediator to assist in talks with the United Professional Firefighters Local 1230 on a new labor contract. Negotiations with firefighters and firefighter-paramedics started in 2010; since then, health care benefits and cost-of-living salary increases have remained frozen.

An impasse was declared by the district in late January.

The fire district has been plagued by financial problems in recent years, and has needed to borrow from its capital fund to keep titsgeneral fund solvent.

Union President Vince Wells said this is good news. He described the mediation process as more collaborative than the fact-finding process that would have been in play without mediation. He said the latter would be "a bit more confrontational."

Union officials say the district's two most recent contract offers have contained pay cuts and a proposal for a new job classification for single-role paramedics, who would replace 12 firefighter-paramedic positions vacated though retirements, attrition or other employment separations. The paramedics would receive less pay and a different retirement benefit formula through the county retirement system, according to the union.