MORAGA -- Plans by the Moraga-Orinda Fire District to rebuild one Orinda fire station and remodel another facility in Moraga could soon be shelved to help balance the budget and avoid service reductions.
Postponing the work on Station 43 in Orinda and Moraga's Station 41 could save the district an estimated $2.5 million next fiscal year. The capital fund savings could then be redirected by the board to the general fund to help close a $1 million budget deficit projected in fiscal year 2013-14.
Officials estimate revenues of $18.4 million next year, due in part to higher property tax returns. But that will not cover an estimated $19.4 million in expenses, including an $804,000 deficit from the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
At a preliminary budget discussion this week, MOFD firefighter Mark DeWeese suggested that eliminating the station expenses would save crucial money.
"I've heard a lot of talk that I'm not convinced that everyone's on board with spending the $2 million to rebuild 43," he said.
That divisive project has been on hold while directors worked with the Contra Costa Fire District on a new joint station on the Lafayette-Orinda border that resulted in Station 43's closure.
Should directors postpone the station work, the district could avoid a capital budget deficit next year and shift $1 million in capital revenue. Also, the district is expected to receive a special "fire flow" tax paid by residents into the general fund. Officials estimate the general fund will have a higher long-term deficit than predicted, thanks to a reimbursement shortfall for ambulance billing.
Staffers have also revised projections for the current fiscal year ending June 30. While they expect to finish the year with increased revenues from property tax growth, the deficit has increased to $1.24 million because of overtime costs resulting from staffing shortages after a December car crash on Highway 24.
The budget also took a hit from property tax revenue corrections arising from the recession and from new-firefighter training expenses, said fire Chief Randy Bradley.
As he did last year, Bradley proposed dipping into the district's combined $5.8 million reserves to balance next year's budget. And although he included the option in a staff report, Bradley did not recommend moves to reduce service, including reducing ambulance service in Orinda and Moraga. Ultimately, neither did the board.
Director Alex Evans warned reduced ambulance service would raise a "most dramatic" public outcry. Board member Fred Weil urged his colleagues to explore less-radical options.
"We spent a lot of time and a lot of effort to have two full-time ambulances, one at each end of the district," he said. "People in both communities expect us to have that. They're paying for it."
The board will meet June 26 to continue budget discussions.