ORINDA -- Half of a $15,000 deposit placed by the Moraga-Orinda Fire District on a Lafayette property that could become the site of a new fire station is no longer refundable, bringing officials one step closer to an actual land purchase.

Directors Steve Anderson, Alex Evans and John Wyro, who represent divisions in Orinda, once again voted to continue negotiations between MOFD and ConFire to consolidate fire station operations in portions of Orinda and Lafayette into one station along El Nido Ranch Road. Director Fred Weil and board president Frank Sperling -- who both represent Moraga -- voted against the idea.

The approval allows $7,500 of the $15,000 deposit placed by MOFD on the Lorinda Lane property earlier this month to become nonrefundable; the other half will go firm at a later date, according to MOFD Chief Randy Bradley. Officials are hoping to purchase the $1.2 million property and build a fire station on a somewhat flat, currently tree-filled portion of the hilly property along El Nido Ranch Road.

The entire deposit was originally scheduled to become nonrefundable March 28. But the district and sellers reached an understanding that gives MOFD and ConFire more time to enter a joint operating agreement to share the purchase, construction, operation and staffing of the new station. The district has until May 25 to complete the purchase agreement.

However, if county supervisors vote against the plan, another buyer could step in and purchase the property for MOFD.

"If we don't come to an agreement with ConFire, then the city of Lafayette has indicated that they would be willing to purchase the property on our behalf," Bradley told MOFD directors Tuesday.

That's a decision reserved for the city council, said Lafayette City Manager Steve Falk. He said Wednesday that he would be willing to take Bradley's suggestion that MOFD forward money to Lafayette for the land purchase to city leaders for consideration.

"It would appear to provide significant potential advantage to the city with very little risk," Falk said.

Earlier this month, Bradley said his district could annex the land and purchase it in case Lafayette should decide to leave ConFire and join MOFD.

Falk said there has been no recent official discussions by the council or the city's public safety committee about detaching from ConFire.

Residents at Tuesday's meeting also continued to voice opposition and support for the station consolidation.

Lafayette resident George Burtt has backed the merger but is expressing reservations about the station following a suggestion by ConFire Chief Daryl Louder at a county supervisor's meeting earlier this month to reallocate funds in order to pay for the new facility.

During an exchange with supervisor Candace Anderson March 12, Louder said it was possible to reduce staffing at the St. Marys Road station in Lafayette. Such a move could save $700,000 annually, Louder said -- an amount that could be put toward ConFire's $1 million share of operating costs for the new station.

Burtt asked that any contract between the two districts maintain full staffing at both of Lafayette's remaining stations during the length of the operating agreement. Officials have suggested a 30-year contract.

Although not discussed at the meeting, members of the Local 1230 firefighters union have also weighed in on the possible merger and are opposing the deal, calling it "inequitable."

In a letter to fire officials and county supervisors, chapter President Vince Wells voiced concerns about mutual aid and cost, arguing that Con Fire would now become responsible for half of any MOFD spending on personnel and station upkeep. He also suggested that if MOFD wants to be compensated for providing more mutual aid into Lafayette, an arrangement could be negotiated on a per call basis as is done in other coverage areas. Con Fire estimates it has run 45 calls and sent 53 engines into MOFD's areas of coverage while MOFD has run 29 calls and sent 33 engines since the Lafayette station closed Jan. 15.

MOFD directors will continue to discuss the consolidation in April. The county, which has approved continued negotiations but has not yet authorized the use of any funds for the land purchase, is scheduled to meet as ConFire's board of directors May 7.

However, negotiations are continuing, and supervisors could meet any time before May 7, Louder said.

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