MORAGA -- Moraga-Orinda Fire District officials have adopted budgets that have the district ending the fiscal year more than $1.8 million in the red and are reaching out to the public for feedback.
The district's five-member board of directors voted Wednesday to approve the 2013-14 general fund and capital improvement budgets. The move means that the district will finish the fiscal year with $900,000 in general fund reserves -- or less than one month's operating expenses.
Directors also said they will address the district's deeper financial problems, including growing pension debt.
"I think that it's pretty clear that we adopt this budget, and then we are going to have to almost immediately go into a study of what it is that we are going to do to reduce the structural deficit," said Director Fred Weil. "There are a number of possible choices, none of which we have vetted yet in public."
Board President John Wyro said the current path "is not sustainable."
"We need to do something different to move the district forward," he said.
To that end, the board also decided to hold a public budget workshop to let residents share their ideas and thoughts on the district's finances. That meeting is scheduled for Oct. 2.
On Wednesday, directors also earmarked $240,000 for repairs at two Orinda fire stations and froze a battalion chief position, saving the district about $250,000.
Interim Chief Stephen Healy said administrators have also analyzed the district's long-range financial plan, a document unveiled last year that showed how the district planned to address its pension and health care debt, which was then more than $60 million.
"What we found when we went from row to row looking at the different expenditures was that really the only two things that made a difference structurally were the staffing model and the cost associated with that and the personnel costs for the district," Healy said.
Directors didn't ask for further details.
The district continues to negotiate contracts with firefighters, whose salaries and health care benefits have remained frozen since 2010. Firefighters have not received raises since 2008, Healy said.
Administrators have suggested alternate delivery models, such as additional cross-staffing of ambulances, to address increasing costs and have remained adamant about maintaining service levels.
Still, the district is projecting personnel costs will grow about 9.26 percent more than the previous year, which staff attributes to promotions and the hiring of four new firefighter/paramedics made possible by a two-year federal grant.
Directors said Wednesday that the hires had decreased overtime costs to $1.5 million this year but acknowledged those costs could increase in two years when the grant money runs out.