MORAGA -- A report authored by a group of Orinda residents analyzing everything from operations to finances of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District has received a sharp rebuke from district administrators and trustees.
Officials responded this week to the 90-page review compiled by nine residents who call themselves the Orinda Emergency Services Task Force. They claim the district fails to meet standard response times for critical emergencies in Orinda nearly 40 percent of the time and that the city's residents are overpaying about $1 million for their share of fire service, among other issues.
The report, released in September, also estimates the district has amassed nearly $700 million in future unfunded liabilities, a figure officials have blasted. Administrators calculate they have about $60 million in unfunded liabilities and pension debt, which they are hoping to pay off by 2028.
On Wednesday, fire officials summarized and expanded on a written response to the report.
Major points include:
Public participation in district governance -- The task force had suggested more citizen oversight of the district. Fire Chief Randy Bradley recommended trustees maintain their current governance model, which does not include any standing citizen committees or groups, citing a challenge for trustees in balancing representation of about 40,000 residents and "a few people with a lot of passion about the direction the district should head."
"It's really your job to manage this district," Bradley told the board.
Inability to consistently meet industry standard response time goals for Code 3 or "critical" incidents in Orinda -- Officials cited difficulty in providing desired urban service levels in a semirural environment and said there are areas in the district where firefighters will absolutely not be able to meet response times. Critics say the district has a 39 percent failure rate of meeting 6-minute first engine response time goals in Orinda and less in the Sleepy Hollow/Orinda Downs neighborhoods.
Unsustainable operational costs and "unfunded liabilities" -- Bradley defended his assumption that the district's pension plan assets would earn a 7.75 percent return this and other years based on long-term trends. The group believes the projection is too optimistic and argues that the Contra Costa County Employees' Retirement Association has averaged a 5 percent return on assets.
Bradley also defended a plan to replace Station 43 in Orinda, which directors moved ahead with in December, when a majority voted to solicit construction bids. Critics question the $3 million expense, arguing the district should focus on its financial situation, including an $800,000 budget deficit.
Administrators also countered perceived inequalities between how much Orinda pays for emergency services versus what Moraga pays and said the issue had been repeatedly discussed and analyzed.
One Orinda resident at the sparsely attended meeting argued that there continues to be disparity and repeated past calls for public workshops. Another asked again for involving residents in the district's ongoing contract negotiations.
"This would send a positive signal to taxpayers and perhaps create some trust," the resident said.