ORINDA -- A debate between local residents and the Moraga-Orinda Fire District over emergency services has reignited following claims of less-than-optimal response times, shaky finances, massive unfunded liabilities and other problems detailed in a 90-page audit blasting the district.
The report -- authored by nine Orinda residents who call themselves the Orinda Emergency Services Task Force -- says the district has significant financial problems. They include a nearly 40 percent failure rate in meeting standard response times for critical emergencies in Orinda; an overpayment of about $1 million for the city's share of service; and the accrual of more than $700 million in future unfunded liabilities, including pension obligation bonds and medical insurance for retired employees in the 15 years since the district was formed.
According to the group's calculations, the district currently has $120 million in assets to pay for those liabilities and under current assumptions could only cover about $300 million of future employee benefits.
The entire report can be found on the group's website at www.OrindaTaskForce.org.
At a meeting Tuesday, during which officials heard public comment but did not respond, task force member Diana Stephens suggested council members read the report and "take an active interest in how Orinda is being served in the area of emergency services."
She told council members that they need to work with the fire district to provide emergency services and asked them to consider forming a task force, committee or public safety commission to do so.
The task force audit report decries the lack of citizen oversight, including committees or commissions.
"Don't just ignore the issue or assume that someone else is going to take care of it," Stephens told the council. "There are serious issues currently being decided, and MOFD's service may further degrade if the city does not get involved."
Fire Chief Randy Bradley blasted the report, telling the council it is "full of hyperbole, false and inaccurate assumptions and creative accounting." He said the task force was trying to place improvements of roads and infrastructure before the community's needs for fire protection and emergency medical services and asserted the district is meeting expectations for urban service levels in an area with semirural housing densities.
Bradley also dismissed the group's claim that Orinda is overpaying for its fire services. He briefly addressed the unfunded liabilities issue, saying the district has been working on a draft plan to address all of those liabilities over 13 to 15 years and talked about potentially reducing other post-employee benefits, which include health care, life insurance and disability compensation.
This isn't the first time residents have taken the district to task. Some members of the group served on a city task force in 2008 exploring funding for infrastructure and road repairs. Known as the Revenue Enhancement Task Force, that group created a plan to reallocate property taxes going to the district and transfer some back to Orinda to fund infrastructure. However, that group disbanded, and some members formed Fire and Infrastructure Renewal, or FAIR. The new task force includes members of FAIR.
In an interview before Tuesday's meeting, Councilwoman Victoria Smith said the audit report should be presented to the fire district board once its two new directors take office in December. She said it's up to the new board to review the report "in the time frame and manner they determine."