Less than a week before they're sworn in as the Moraga-Orinda Fire District's newest trustees, Steve Anderson and Alex Evans are already pondering how to help create a more sustainable future.
"My goal is to ensure that when I leave the board, the fiscal health of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District is in excellent shape," says Anderson, who runs a business management company and is a newcomer to public office. "The second thing is to ensure that the department is performing to standard."
Anderson, 67, and Evans, 51, were the only candidates who ran to fill two board seats vacated by former trustees Brook Mancinelli and Dick Olsen, who resigned in February.
Anderson will finish the remainder of Olsen's two-year term overseeing District 3, which covers portions of Moraga, Orinda and Canyon. Evans will serve a four-year term overseeing District 5 in Orinda.
The pair are being appointed in lieu of elections Thursday, and current board President Fred Weil -- who went unchallenged in November -- will also be sworn in.
The appointments come at a crucial time for the district, which consists of five stations and employs 61 firefighters, including a fire chief, an assistant fire marshal, battalion chiefs, captains and engineers. The five-member board has been operating with trustees John Wyro, Frank Sperling and Weil since February.
Officials are hoping to reach an agreement on nearly 2-year-old labor negotiations that are on hold pending evaluation of recent pension reform in Sacramento. They'd also like to eliminate $64 million in pension debt within 15 years through cuts to capital spending and other tactics, and address fire stations needing to be remodeled or replaced.
Then there's the increased public scrutiny over finances and performance standards. Earlier this year, a group of residents formed a task force and released an informal review of the district and its financial health.
Others have questioned response times, most recently following some confusion over the timeline of a Nov. 25 fire that destroyed an Orinda home. The district posted recordings of the 911 and dispatch calls detailing the response on its website to address the concerns.
Evans, a business owner and former Richmond City Council member, said the district has financial and political challenges that should be addressed. He said he sought a board seat because it would be a good opportunity to serve and help the community tackle issues such as unfunded long-term pension and retiree health care benefits and the lack of a new labor contract.
"While these are difficult times, and it's not completely unusual or unique to (the district), you should have a contract with your employees," Evans said. "Pension and health care liabilities are very large in number, and they threaten the long-term financial stability of the organization."
Anderson cited fiscal health as the district's most serious issue and said it must be dealt with because residents don't want reduced services.
"The key cost within MOFD is labor. The key long-term cost is the way the whole retirement system is set up. We need to get deep into that," he said.
Both applauded the district's relationship with Moraga and Orinda residents.
"(The district) has a great deal of credibility. People are confident that they will respond, and I think they are organized and well-equipped and well-staffed," Anderson said. "The infrastructure is all there. It's a question of training to performance standards and fiscal prudence."
What: Moraga-Orinda Fire District special board meeting
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Orinda Community Center Founders Auditorium, 28 Orinda Way