The race for a single seat on the Moraga-Orinda Fire District board of directors is shaping up to be about who has the best tools to navigate the agency through some potentially rocky financial waters.
The longtime incumbent, John Wyro, wants another term to help the district bring down its operating costs, calling it his "unfinished business."
But the challenger, Bob Jungbluth, says the board needs someone with a fresh perspective to deal with its money problems.
Wyro and Jungbluth seek to represent the district's Division 4, which covers southeastern Orinda. Wyro has held the seat since 2002, and represented another part of the district from its creation in 1997 to 2000. Jungbluth is currently an Orinda planning commissioner.
Because they were the only people to file in their respective divisions, board President Frank Sperling and Director Dick Olsen will be reappointed to their seats.
The fire board has made incremental cuts this year to keep the budget balanced, but Wyro and Jungbluth say trouble may still lie ahead. The district has an unfunded retiree health benefit liability of $26 million and a still-unknown unfunded pension liability, according to information presented by fire Chief Randy Bradley at a meeting earlier this month.
Wyro said he had been planning to step down from the board, but the district's murky financial future made him change his mind.
"I feel I need to be a part of the solution moving forward and it's going to take me another term to do that," he said.
"In the world we find ourselves in, we've really got to find a way to do a much better job of holding down costs and that means we're going to need to work very closely with our employees because 90 percent of our operating budget is personnel costs," he added.
Wyro said he could not go into specifics on ways to reduce personnel costs because the district is currently negotiating with the firefighters union.
Jungbluth said while he may not be as knowledgeable about the ins and outs of fire operations as other board members, he brings an outsider's perspective and the ability to effectively communicate with the public about issues facing the district.
The board needs to be open to new ideas or even ideas tried before that might work better this time around, he said.
"I've been involved with people who have been on boards for extended periods of time," he said. "It's easy to create a culture where, 'Oh we tried that 10 years ago and it didn't work so we're not even going to consider that proposal.' But the one constant in life is things change."
If the district receives any additional revenue from the Wilder housing project in Orinda and downtown development in Moraga, the board should use it to pay down the pension liability, Jungbluth said.
All ideas, including a new pension system for new hires, need to be on the table, he added.
Asked about a proposal from some Orinda residents to contract with the county for fire services, Jungbluth said he does not favor dissolving the district but does believe many of the issues that have been raised are worthy of further discussion.
Wyro, on the subcommittee examining the proposal, said he believes those discussions will be finished after the group's next meeting, and that it will be up to the fire board and the Moraga and Orinda councils individually to decide what to do next.
Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Read the Lamorinda Sun blog at www.ibabuzz.com/lamorindasun.