SAN RAMON VALLEY -- The three candidates elected to the San Ramon Valley Fire District board of directors have their work cut out for them.
The district, which provides fire, rescue and emergency services in the San Ramon and Tassajara valleys, has been running a budget deficit for the past four years. In addition, it has been mired in contract negotiations with the firefighters union for the past year and a half.
Of the five candidates running for the board, Alameda fire Captain Gordon Dakin received the most votes, pulling in 32 percent of the total. Incumbent and board Vice President Matt Stamey received 25 percent. Newcomer H. Jay Kerr received 22 percent.
Not all mail-in votes have yet been counted but Dakin, Stamey and Kerr have safe leads over the two other candidates, Gerardo Peniche, at 12 percent, and Stephen Mohun, 9 percent.
Dakin served on the board from 2000 to 2006. When he left, the district was flush with cash, but it's now relying on a dwindling reserve fund to balance the budget.
"My feelings this go-round are a little different than last go-round," Dakin said of returning to the board. He said when he was elected in 2000 he felt pride in having the chance to give back to his community. "This time I'm feeling that there is a ton of work to be done, and things need to be righted. I have a much more sobering take on what's at stake here."
For the 2012-13 fiscal year, the district is projecting total revenues of $56.4 million, mostly from property taxes. Its largest expense is salaries and benefits for its 190 personnel. Pensions alone account for 25 percent of the general fund budget.
The district has been seeking concessions from the union on pay and benefits, with no deal reached.
Dakin and losing candidates Peniche and Mohun were all backed by the firefighters union. Dakin said that although the union supported his candidacy, he is first beholden to the taxpayers.
"My goal is to get the district fiscally sound," he said. "My focus is going to be cutting expenses, and some of those cuts will have a direct affect on the union membership."
He said he does not favor asking voters for a parcel tax to increase revenue. "The funding coming from this community should be more than adequate to provide the very best services of any emergency response agency," he said.
Stamey, a CEO of an agricultural-related business, and Kerr, a veterinarian, are both fiscal conservatives who were opposed by the union. They both said balancing the budget are their priorities.
"It's just a question of how we get there," Kerr said, adding that he is looking forward to getting the inside scoop on the district's finances now that he has been elected.
Stamey said one of the first things the board must do is tackle the labor agreement. "We need a contract that allows for a larger contribution from the employees for their retirement costs," he said.
"We have one of the most highly rated fire districts in the state of California," Stamey said. "The agency is doing a great job. If we could figure out all the financial issues, things would be terrific."
The new board will be seated at its first meeting Dec. 19. One of its first responsibilities will be replacing outgoing Chief Richard Price, who retired last year and is serving as acting chief for $1 a month.
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.