Candidates for the Moraga-Orinda Fire District Give Their Views

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    The Moraga Orinda Fire District has a five-member board of directors representing five districts. Charged with providing strategic leadership, policy and direction and fiscal oversight, the directors are elected to a four-year term and represent a specific district.
    District 1 has Greg Hasler and Christopher Young vying for one position with the District 2 representative not up for re-election. Since District 1 is only voted on by Moraga residents, we did not include those candidates in this article. In District 3, which comprises parts of Moraga and Orinda, there are two candidates for the one position: incumbent Steven Danziger and Vince Dell’Aquina. In District 4, incumbent Michael Donner and Mike Roemer will vie for the one position available.
    The candidates were asked the following questions:

1. Rank in order of importance your three top priorities for MOFD. (300 words or less)

2. MOFD has been actively educating residents on fire prevention and “hardening” of homes. What additional efforts do you propose to keep Orindans safe? (350 words or less)

3. Fiscal accountability including pension obligations, has long been a hot topic for MOFD. How would you approach these on-going concerns? (200 words or less)

4. What expertise will you bring to the board? (150 words or less)

Steve Danziger

Steve Danziger

Top Priorities
    Highest priority is enhancing our Fire Prevention programming. The accomplishments of this Board have resulted in a better prepared and more fire safe District. Major actions included: home hardening grants, hiring full-time Fuels Mitigation Specialists, completing the first of two fuel breaks, and implementing one of the most comprehensive effective fire codes in the state. I support strengthening these ongoing efforts and remain focused on making our District safer.
    From 2007-2013, MOFD staffed a dedicated ambulance crew at Station 45 in Orinda. Due to financial difficulties, this model was discontinued and reverted to the current cross staffing in which the fire crew staffs the ambulance when responding to EMS incidents. This requires taking the fire engine out of service for the length of the call and creates a fire coverage gap. In June 2019, I requested a special meeting to discuss increasing staffing to the former model. After several delays, the Board recently made progress and decided follow-up is needed to review/analyze the various staffing models. I received 250 emails supporting increased staffing and none opposed. I intend to continue discussing this issue with the goal of making it happen. There will be budget impacts, but it is a safer model for the District, for your firefighters and is the right thing to do.
    As your director, I take my fiduciary responsibility seriously. Financial accountability, monitoring and transparency is a priority. Due largely to an increase in property tax revenue and prudent decisions by this Board, our District’s finances are much stronger now than four years ago. Reserve funds are on track to reach our 50% goal by the end of the year, pension/benefit liabilities payment schedule is on track and the Board will be able to consider new programs and staffing options.

Keeping Orindans Safe
    We are fortunate to have Chief Winnacker leading the charge to make our District as safe as possible from the threat of wildfire. With support from this Board the District looks different today than it did four years ago. With that said, there is still work to be done. I would like MOFD to increase education/outreach efforts. With limited resources, the District is doing a great job, but more focus is needed. During the next budget cycle, I will present for discussion the possibility of adding a new position with wide ranging District education functions that will be geared toward getting more property owners to comply with our code and as a result, making us all safer.
    Last year, work was completed on the North Orinda Shaded Fuel Break and the district has now received a state grant for a second fuel break along the East Bay hills from Highway 24 to Canyon and to the Lafayette border. However, the State does not provide funds for on-going maintenance. I would like the Board to use whatever means they can to get the public entity property owners to maintain those fuel breaks. Without continuing mitigation work, these areas will revert back to their former condition in a matter of years.
    In 2023, we will have the opportunity to revise our fire code. The new code accounts for changes in technology, climate and building materials. I will work hard and represent you in all discussions on this important piece of legislation.

Fiscal Responsibility
    The issue of pension liability is not unique to MOFD. The problem is nationwide to the tune of trillions of dollars. Compared to many jurisdictions, we are in better shape. During the four years I have been on the Board, we have continued to aggressively fund our pension and benefit liabilities. We have a sophisticated software program as well as consultants that guide us on payments. This Board has made great progress in paying these debts and one of my priorities when, re-elected, will be to continue in this manner. Our Long-Range Financial Plan now projects that the debts will be paid in approximately 12 years.
    Despite philosophical differences among Board members, I am proud of how focused and united we have been when it comes to strengthening the District’s financial position for the present as well as the future. This has been done by enacting policies that ensure accountability, transparency and strategic planning. In 2018, the District’s Reserve Fund (to be used in case of financial downturns…) was approximately 17%, today we are about to achieve our stated goal of 50%. We recently paid off a pension obligation bond resulting in an increase to our general fund.

Orinda/Moraga Equity
    The question of equity has been a topic of discussion since 2011 when a Board subcommittee first examined the issue. Their analysis concluded that Orinda does not unfairly pay more for fire protection than Moraga. Following that, a comprehensive report authored by concerned citizens and elected officials prepared a report dated June 15, 2016, entitled “Analysis of Funding Equity Between Taxpayers of Orinda and Moraga.” That report reached the same conclusion. The services provided by the District are not defined by geographical locations. We are one District and our model is that when needed, there is no limitation on where a responding company can go. The ambulance staffed in Moraga regularly responds to Orinda and crews stationed in Orinda may respond to Moraga or Canyon. After being on the Board for almost four years, I see no reason why this should continue to be a topic of conversation.

Your Experience
    As incumbent Director, I have almost four years on the Board, served two years as president, currently serving as vice president and member of the Audit Committee. I am a Fire Adapted Community-Ambassador and proud CERT team member.
    I have 35 years of experience in the public sector including 20 years as administrative manager with Oakland Fire Department. I also worked three years in the Finance Office and three years in the City Manager’s Office. I have a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, and worked for the National Park Service, including several years in Yosemite National Park. I am currently Chair of the Orinda Parks & Recreation Commission, member of the Art in Public Places Committee, volunteer at the Orinda Library, Orinda Nature Area, and with Friends of Orinda Creeks. I am a UC Master Gardener and have presented “Home Hardening & Firescaping” to a total of over 1500 attendees.

Vince Dell’Aquila

Vince Dell’Aquila

Top Priorities
    1. Focusing on fire prevention while still providing state-of-the-art fire and emergency medical services.
    2. Be a budget watchdog to ensure transparency and responsible use of Moraga-Orinda Fire District funds.
    3. Utilize advanced technology to leverage Moraga-Orinda Fire District’s physical assets and well-trained personnel.

Keeping Orindans Safe
    Beyond education about fire prevention and strengthening our defenses around our homes, the MOFD has a huge responsibility for stressing the immediate dangers of a “Big Event.” The residents of Moraga and Orinda must be ready for evacuation plans. Paradise, California station KVIE (10/29/19) states that the Paradise Fire destroyed 153,335 acres in just four hours; that’s 38,333 acres per hour! Moraga and Orinda have approximately 14,300 acres.
    We are three decades removed from the Oakland Hills fire, and we need to know how many Moraga and Orinda residents are registered for Community Warning Alerts (CWA) and know their evacuation Zones; how many have a household evacuation plan and practice it; how many are prepared with Go-bags packed for each resident.
    Our city websites include guides for this preparation, but MOFD can play a huge part in pushing this information and stressing the importance of coordination by zone so as not to block rescue services. The department has to work with citizens to prepare them for the curveballs that they will encounter in emergency situations. We must think out of the box when it comes to fire preparedness; it’s not a matter of if, but when we will face such an event. We can’t hope we are lucky; the definition of luck is when preparation meets 
opportunity.

Fiscal Responsibility
    I am committed to finding a balance between maintaining a dedicated, experienced staff, and improving the community resources needed to provide services. This can’t be an either or situation, budgeting has to address both with a focus on services and protecting our residents and homes. Outdated equipment and lack of services serves no one.

Orinda/Moraga Equity
    The discussion about fire protection cost equity has been a hot topic for residents of Moraga and Orinda. Clearly both communities have benefited from the formation of MOFD. If I am elected, I will review this issue based on a data informed decision making process with the intent of ensuring that all property owners in MOFD pay their fair share of the services provided. Each city has approximately the same percentage of property tax already.

Your Experience
    As an educator, coach, community volunteer and former contractor, I attribute my success with students, parents, staff and the public to my communication skills, being able to listen with empathy and my ability to think outside the box when it comes to resolving issues or making decisions that have a huge impact on others. I have a reputation for being a fair, problem solving teacher, coach and athletic director. My recent experience as a member of the Community Foundation has renewed my belief that these skills are essential in community based decision making and that I have a great deal to offer. My experience in contracting prior to education gave me considerable experience in bidding, contract negotiation and project completion with communications again playing a vital role. Finally, I will bring the same passion to the MOFD board that I have while serving our community the past 34 years.

Mike Donner

Mike Donner

Top Priorities
    Fire prevention is my number one priority for the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD). When I took office four years ago, the MOFD had three part-time aids and a fire marshal. We now have three full-time fuel mitigation specialists and a new fire marshal that has updated the fire code. The fire marshal created one of the strongest fire prevention models in the state of California and is currently presenting fire code to Contra Costa County to enhance fire protection county-wide. We need to continue our efforts in inspections, compliance, outreach, education, home hardening, Firewise communities, chipping and grant programs. I believe a robust fire prevention program will decrease fire insurance cancellations and prevent policy hikes. Additionally, I am currently working with the Orinda mayor and city council members on measure R tax revenue to effectively create a fire safe community.
    Managing the MOFD finances is my second priority. The MOFD currently has an excellent financial standing after four hard years of work. The pension liabilities are 90% funded and the pension obligation fund has increased from several hundred thousand dollars to over 6.5 million dollars. The OPEB fund has increased from $80,000 in 2018 to over 2.5 million dollars. The reserve funds have grown from 17% to approximately 48% of the annual operating budget. The MOFD is well positioned to maintain normal staffing without decreasing service should an economic downturn occur.
    I would like to restore staffing at Station 45 in Orinda with a designated ambulance crew. In 2013, the Board voted to decrease staffing. Firefighters now cross-staff an ambulance and a fire engine in downtown Orinda. This is a complex issue that I am currently studying as an MOFD board member. I will make sound decisions for a safe and fiscally responsible staffing model for the MOFD.

Keeping Orindans Safe 
    Fire prevention is my top priority, and I will continue to support our fire chief with our shared vision of district safety. I will focus on home hardening grants, fire inspections, increased compliance, outreach, education, defensible space and supporting our Firewise communities. My 40 years of fire experience and deep knowledge of fire prevention will help guide our neighborhoods to be fire safe communities.
    I am proud to have contributed with the expansion of our fire prevention community outreach. In 2018, we had zero Firewise households, we now have 30 Firewise groups with over 2,500 households in the program. Community outreach is a critical component to creating a fire safe community. My firefighting and volunteer experience provides for a natural fit in our current community outreach.
    I will continue to support fire grants for fuel mitigation projects to make our community fire safe. I supported the North Orinda Shaded Fuel Break, a challenging project spanning 17 miles crossing boundaries with East Bay Regional Parks, East Bay Utility District, UC Berkeley, private owners and many more. I am now supporting the newly formed East Bay Tunnel Fuel Break spanning through the town of Moraga and the Community of Canyon. We received a $6.5 million dollar grant for this project.

Fiscal Responsibility
    Throughout my term as an MOFD board member, I have maintained a strong fiscal accountability. I helped increase our reserve fund from 17% to approximately 48% of our annual operating budget. Additionally, I helped increase the OPEB (other post-employment benefits) contributions. The irrevocable trust had a balance of 80,000 in 2018, which now has roughly $2.4 million. The pension obligations are currently 90% funded. MOFD has contributed millions of dollars into our pension stabilization fund, and recently just paid off our pension bond. This has all been done while giving our MOFD firefighters, 
Chief, officers and staff, fair wage and benefit contracts.

Orinda/Moraga Equity
    Several independent panels have investigated this issue. These independent boards and panels have not determined any need for further action. All Contra Costa County homeowners pay a 1% property tax.  The distribution of Contra Costa County assessed taxes is not the responsibility of the MOFD Board of Directors. MOFD follows the Government Accounting Standards Board and Government Finance Officers Association guidelines and recommendations to provide accountability and transparency in the accounting of district finances.

Your Experience
    I bring four decades of fire experience to the board. I am passionately dedicated to both the fire service and my community. I have been involved in community service since I moved to Orinda in 2005. I have served on the emergency preparedness committee with the Orinda School District for over 15 years. I have organized seminars on emergency preparedness emphasizing our community warning system. As current MOFD Board President, I have a deep understanding of fire prevention, equipment, facilities, the recruiting process and maintaining fair wages/benefits. I helped bring our Fire District to a substantially higher financial level during my term on the board. I believe that my experience in the fire service and community involvement will provide for a safer community. I will continue to build and focus on a robust fire prevention program. I would be honored to receive for your vote.

Mike Roemer

Mike Roemer

Top Priorities
    1. Fiscal responsibility.  Building reserves to outlast future economic downturns and rebuilding our aging fire stations.  
    2. Fire Prevention. Spend a larger percentage of our budget on home hardening and fire prevention to make our community able to be defended from wildfires.
    3. Implementation of advanced technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness of our fire detection, emergency warning and evacuation systems. 

Keeping Orindans Safe
    Work more closely with the City of Orinda and Town of Moraga to implement grant programs to encourage actual fuel reduction and home hardening in a systematic manner. 
    1. We must start education programs in our schools to make children aware of the situation and solutions and encourage them to take home the topic and implement the plans. 

Fiscal Responsibility
    1. Continue to fund the Pension and Medical expense Trust funds to make up for the shortfalls that systematically occur at the County Pension Plan we use. 
    2. Wisely invest our trust money to ensure safe, predictable long-term returns.
    3. Manage our future obligations to match our surrounding communities’ salaries and benefits.

Orinda/Moraga Equity
    1. Moraga and Orinda pay the same percentage tax to the county.  They also receive the same level of service and protection from MOFD.  I will ensure that we continue to provide the best fire and medical services to both communities. 

Your Experience
   1. I am an experienced trial lawyer.  MOFD has ongoing legal challenges that can utilize my years of experience and knowledge.
    2. Serving on the board of a bank has honed my financial skills and given me a perspective on banking relationships
    3. My CERT training as well as my Ham Radio Operator’s License have let me participate significantly in the day-to-day emergency operations of MOFD and build relationships with it’s fine personnel, facilities and equipment.  I look forward to adding a management perspective to the that business. 
    4. I am a long time Orinda Resident with children who have gone all the way through its fine schools and athletic programs.  I believe I am very in tune with the feelings and priorities of the community and will only represent the best interest of our community not other outside interests. 

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