What Orindans Were Promised If They Formed MOFD

They were promised that their property tax dollars allocated to fire protection would:

1) Be exclusively used for services in Orinda

2) This would allow an upgrade in service including paramedics on the first responders’ engines and a local ambulance.

Goal #2 was met a long time ago, and for that Orindans are much safer.  But Goal #1 has slipped away and because of it Orinda's safety is once again at risk.

 

At the time (1997), these services were provided to the residents of Moraga but denied the residents of Orinda.  It turned out that Orindans were paying more than enough to afford these same services, but a significant portion of those funds was being used outside of Orinda.  The voters were promised that forming MOFD would rectify this problem.

 

Most of the funding for “fire protection” services (90% of all emergencies are medical; less than 2% are fires) comes from property taxes.  23% of Orinda’s property taxes are allocated to “fire protection” and 19% of Moraga’s.  This is far in excess of the county average of about 12%.

 

However, in addition to having a higher percent of property tax allocated to fire prevention than Moraga, Orinda has a larger property tax base.  In 1997 Orinda’s tax base was 33% larger than Moraga’s; today (2022) it is 62% larger.

 

In 1997 the year MOFD was formed, Orinda’s tax generated $4.6 million while Moraga’s tax only generated $2.9 million.  But Moraga was also paying an additional $450,000 parcel tax.  In addition, since the service was so much better in Moraga than Orinda, 750 homes in South Orinda were serviced by the Moraga Fire Department, even though they were just as close to the south Orinda station as the Moraga Station. These homes provided Moraga with an additional $350,000 in taxes, which were not available to Orinda at the time.

 

Even without those taxes Orinda was paying $4.8 million vs. Moraga’s $3.7 million.  It is understandable why Orinda believed it could get better service from MOFD since it was already paying more than Moraga.

 

When MOFD was formed, Moraga forced Orinda to also create an additional parcel tax which generated another $500,000 a year.  This was because not only had the County provided Orinda with less service than Moraga, but it also let Orinda’s equipment deteriorate.  This tax was supposed to be temporary.  It has never been suspended or reduced.

 

In 1998, the first year of MOFD’s operation, including ad valorem tax, parcel tax, and bringing the 750 homes in South Orinda back into Orinda for “accounting purposes”, Orinda property tax generated $5.4 million while Moraga only generated $3.5 million. Nine of MOFD’s 17 firefighters were stationed in Orinda so it should have paid 9/17th of $8.9 million or $4.7 million.  Already, in the first year, Orinda was overpaying $700,000.

 

However, there was the issue of depleted equipment in Orinda.  At a meeting in 2009, MOFD presented an accounting of equipment purchases for Orinda and Moraga.  Over the first 12 years of operations, MOFD had spent $2.7 million more in Orinda than Moraga.  Over that same period, Orinda had paid $13 million more than its proportionate share of operating expenses.  And since then, the overpayment / underservice has added up to over $40 million.  Next year (2022/23) alone could be in excess of $4 million.  Attached is the History of MOFD Tax Funding plus the Details of Property Tax Receipts from all MOFD properties.

 

Arguments have been made that there were never any provisions in MOFD’s charter to specially allocate taxes from Orinda to Orinda and from Moraga to Moraga.  And this is true (with the exception of the small parcel taxes).  But there was also no prohibition made for doing so.

 

MOFD was created by the Orinda City Council, and the Moraga Town Council, petitioning the County to allow for the formation of MOFD.  MOFD is a creation of those councils. (Attached are the 9/3/1996 resolution by the Orinda Council; the 10/26/1996 resolution by LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission of Contra Costa) specifying the application by Orinda and Moraga and reiterating the terms in the Orinda resolution; and the 1/14/1997 resolution by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, also reiterating the terms in the other documents.)  In none of the creation documents is there any mention of how tax revenue will be allocated for services in Orinda and Moraga.  But in the LAFCO document it clearly states: “all property taxes currently received by the individual districts shall be received by the successor district.”  The taxes paid by Orinda taxpayers for fire prevention would all go to MOFD.  Orinda could "take its taxes with it.”

 

While there was no provision built into the formation documents of how those taxes should be allocated for service within the district, the members of the Orinda City Council made it very clear to the voters of their intent.  In the Orinda voters’ pamphlet, the following statements were made in arguments-for and rebuttals to arguments-against:

* “We must never again let the Supervisors spend $2.8 million of Orinda's money elsewhere in the County, ignoring Orinda's needs." Sargent Littlehale, Mayor

*“The County has neglected our fire protection needs, while squandering millions of Orinda taxes on fire services in other cities.”

*“Our tax dollars will be used in our city, now, and in the future.”

 

What was not specified was what the mechanism was for ensuring this use of our tax dollars.  The only provision was the faith in the voters electing a board of directors which would carry out these this directive:

* “Make local lire commissioners responsible for our local needs”

* “local people in control, people who know Orinda - our streets and our needs."

 

It should be noted that this idea of allocating Orinda’s taxes for use in Orinda was not just Orinda’s idea.  While no member of the Moraga Town Council was identified as an author in the Moraga Voters' pamphlet, the goal of keeping Moraga’s taxes in Moraga was also stated:

* “Bring control of Moraga's tax money back to Moraga”

 

In conclusion, it is very clear that:

* Orinda’s tax dollars are Orinda’s to use (and Moraga’s are Moraga’s to use); this was stipulated in the LAFCO resolution.

* The Orinda framers strongly stated that Orinda tax dollars were to be used for services in Orinda, not elsewhere in the County (which includes Moraga).

* The Moraga proponents stated that Moraga tax dollars were to be use for service in Moraga.

* There is nothing in the formation documents precluding this from happening; using Orinda tax dollars for service in Orinda and Moraga tax dollars for service in Moraga.

 

What is happening now, using $4 million Orinda tax dollars for something other than service to Orinda, is making Orinda significantly less safe.