LAFAYETTE -- Residents here will start looking at ways to pay for building a proposed fire station as its potential operators are currently unable to pay for its construction.
The decision by members of the Lafayette Emergency Task Force to explore financing the construction of the joint "Station 46" followed updates this week from fire district officials that neither the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District nor the Moraga-Orinda Fire District have the money to build a new joint fire station to replace the Los Arabis Drive facility shut by the county earlier this year.
"Neither of us really has the capital to build this station at this point," ConFire Chief Jeff Carman told the task force, explaining the district is operating at "bare bones."
Added MOOD board President John Wyro. "We're not looking to spend any capital money at this time." The Moraga-Orinda district is currently borrowing from its $3.4 million capital fund to pay for operational obligations.
The fallout from the districts' current financial turmoil isn't stopping task force members, who since June have been studying -- at the Lafayette City Council's request -- how to improve fire and emergency services in the city.
In the months following the group's formation, task force members have looked into the process for detaching from the county fire district, whose services Lafayette has received for more than four decades. They've also been evaluating both ConFire's and MOFD's finances, among other activities.
On Tuesday, task force members agreed to focus their energies on a few specific goals, including exploring contracting for fire services. In the short term, they'll also investigate ways to finance the fire station's construction, perhaps through a tax or bonds.
"If the goal of this committee is to try to maximize fire service and emergency service in Lafayette, then I think we should go forward with really examining what it takes to get Station 46 open and how that impacts services," said task force member Dennis Garrison.
ConFire chief Carman and Wyro said the districts want to see the station built. In addition to serving western Lafayette, the new station would replace an existing MOFD fire station in eastern Orinda slated for reconstruction.
Carman said it makes sense to "meld" two low-call-volume stations that are close to a city border, and share the operating costs.
Emphasizing MOFD's commitment to the station, Wyro reminded the task force that the district bought a $1.2 million lot on the Lafayette-Orinda border where the station could one day be built.
Officials have been pushing for the joint station since the county decided in January to shut down the ailing Lafayette facility -- closed since the previous summer due to rodents and mold -- in a sweep of station closures. Former fire chiefs had suggested splitting the new station's estimated $2.4 million annual operating costs as well as its estimated $5 million construction cost. But county supervisors who oversee ConFire have not agreed to a deal.
Following statements from Carman that data shows the Los Arabis station's closure has not made a huge dent in average overall response times, task force members and city council liaisons Brandt Andersson and Traci Reilly reiterated that residents aren't happy about getting less coverage for their money.
"Clearly, people are unhappy and not with your service, but really not having a say and feeling like their money is going outside of their community," Reilly told the chief.
Carman replied that the city receives services beyond Lafayette's two remaining fire stations when other ConFire units and those from mutual aid providers such as MOFD respond. "The depth of the district goes way beyond that," the chief said.
The task force is scheduled to meet again Jan. 21.