News

Would it pay for Atherton to leave fire district?

Town seeks bids on a study of its fiscal options

Moving ahead with a project that has provoked the ire of Menlo Park Fire Protection District officials, Atherton has asked consultants to submit proposals for a fiscal study of fire services in the town. The study will examine, among other things, how much it would cost the town to provide its own fire and emergency services.

The description of the scope of work requested by a consultant says the town's "over-arching question" is whether its property values have "increased to the point that the funds received by the Fire District via property taxes far exceed the cost to provide basic fire services to the community?"

Last October, when the Atherton City Council unanimously authorized going forward with the study, fire board member (and now board president) Peter Carpenter ripped into the town.

Speaking at a fire board meeting on Oct. 18, Mr. Carpenter said: "This is a blatant attempt by the town of Atherton to take property taxes which have been paid by the citizens of the fire district and appropriate those funds to the town of Atherton."

He said the town has no legal jurisdiction to do the study and accused Atherton of wanting to "rob the resources" of East Palo Alto residents "in order to enrich the town of Atherton."

The "request for proposals," commonly called an RFP, posted by the town on Feb. 27 asks for exactly what the council authorized in October, a "fiscal review of fire services" with three components:

• Double-checking figures received from the fire district about the amount of property tax revenues and fees that go from Atherton property owners to the fire district, plus a forecast of what those amounts will be in the future.

• Figuring out how much it costs the district to provide fire and other emergency services to Atherton residents.

• Looking at what it would cost the town to get those same services from somewhere other than the fire district, including the cost of building a second fire station in the town if needed.

Atherton City Manager George Rodericks had originally suggested a fourth component to the study, exploring what steps would be needed for the town to separate from the fire district. At the time, City Attorney Bill Conners said that item could easily be added on to a contract if the town later wanted the information.

The consultants' bids are due back by March 31. A recommendation on which consultant should be awarded the contract is scheduled to go to the City Council on April 19.

Fire district Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the district is "an independent, single focused, special district" that is not "governed, or accountable to" Atherton or its City Council, but to its own elected fire board.

"The Fire District sees itself as one entity, comprised of multiple jurisdictions," he said. "Essential emergency services are provided by the closest fire station and available emergency unit, not by jurisdictional boundaries."

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Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Can't really blame Atherton for looking into it and Peter Carpenter's "diplomatic" response I am sure helped make the City Council decision to do just that easier. Personally I hope they decide to stay and if they do leave the current Fire District either won't support them with Mutual Aid or charges for those services to offset some of the cost.


5 people like this
Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 9, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Roberto is a registered user.

An RFP is just that. It does not mean any change is imminent. It is periodically wise to explore ROI. Hopefully, as Peter has suggested, this is not in the best interest. However, if Atherton believes something similar to Sunnyvale Web Link is better, or that Redwood City Fire (includes San Carlos) is a better fit, they should at least look.
Looking and buying are never the same. This affords Menlo Fire to also highlight all they do, including surrounding communities and should welcome it and demonstrate the ROI. Businesses do this all the time.... Government sometimes should look at what successful businesses do.


6 people like this
Posted by Linda Craig
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 9, 2017 at 1:42 pm

It's fine to study the cost factors of various fire/emergency service options. However, as a former member of San Mateo County Local Agency Formation Commission, it would seem that any change in organization would require LAFCo review and approval. I hope that Atherton will look at the requirements to do any organizational change -- they cannot do it on their own initiative.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I have been asked a number of questions about the roles and responsibilities of the Fire Board and the Atherton Town Council.

Speaking for myself (and NOT on behalf of the Fire Board) here are my answers to those questions:


1 – To whom is the Fire Board accountable?

Answer: The Fire Board is equally accountable to all of the 90,000 plus residents of the District (the five Fire District residents who are currently serving as Atherton Town Council members are a part of those 90,000 plus residents).

2 – Is the Fire Board accountable to the Atherton Town Council?

Answer: No

3 - What authority does the Atherton Town Council have over the Fire District?

Answer: None


4 - Who represents the residents of the Fire District who also happen to reside in one of the political jurisdictions subsumed within the boundaries of the Fire District on Fire District matters?

Answer: The Fire Board - which has been elected by those residents.

5 - Does the Atherton Town Council represent Town residents with regard to any matters for which the Fire District is responsible?

Answer: No

6 - The Town of Atherton has recently released a Request for Proposals for Fire Services Fiscal Review that includes the following task:

“If there were not a Fire District and the Town were responsible for providing fire services independently, what would the cost of those services look like? What are the options? Would an additional fire station need to be built and staffed? If so, where would it be? What would it cost? What is the annual cost? What are the long-term cost models? What are the added liabilities? Are there any added benefits?”

What is your opinion of this RFP?

Answer: It is a huge waste of our Atherton taxpayers’ money since the Town was not a party to the establishment of the Fire District over 100 years ago (before the Town of Atherton even existed) and the Town cannot unilaterally withdraw from something to which it does not belong. The Fire District belongs to the 90,000 plus residents of the Fire District - not to the Atherton Town Council and Town Manager.

The future for better and more cost effective fire services is countywide consolidation - not Balkanization into smaller, less cost effective local fiefdoms.

7 - Which public entities that receive revenues from Atherton residents do you think receive more revenue from those residents than they provide in services to those residents?

Answer: The Town of Atherton (as is evidenced by its reserves), the elementary school districts, the high school district, the Fire District, the sanitary district, San Mateo Junior College, the County of San Mateo, the State of California and the Federal government.




18 people like this
Posted by hmm...
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:05 pm

I really like Peter's statement that the town has no legal jurisdiction to analyze how their money is spent. It really goes a long way in earning my trust and support for the numerous other things Peter comments on.


Like this comment
Posted by Deal!
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:11 pm

c'mon Atherton! Menlo fire gets you a cheap fire chief, who makes less than some of the firemen.

Such a deal!


3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Spending upwards of $50,000 on a consultant's study implies the town has money to burn (pardon the pun). Isn't this all avoidable by simply asking the Fire District for the same information an independent consultant will find? Seems to me hiring a mediator instead to facilitate a conversation between these two government agencies may be money better spent.


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

hmmm:

considering Atherton isn't paying the taxes, no, they have no jurisdiction. The individual taxpayers, yes. The Town, no. Now if the taxpayers of Atherton wish to select the Town as their representative to ask those questions that's a different story. But, they haven't done that.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" the town has no legal jurisdiction to analyze how their money is spent."

The Town certainly has both the legal jurisdiction and the responsibility to analyze how the Town of Atherton's money is spent.

And the Fire Board does exactly the same with respect to how the Fire District's money is spent.


6 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:42 pm

If the Atherton town council chooses to do a ROI and pay for a study that is will within their rights. They can then take the results to the people and let them choose to stay in the Fire District, join another district or go it on their own. I think that is fair and well within their rights. I think if Peter were more diplomatic and less opinionated it would go a long way in smoothing over some of the issues, but as he was elected president they get what they get.

Now I guess we wait and see what happens on April 19th.

and Peter it seems to me that what ever you say about this issue, regardless of disclaimers, you are speaking as President of the Fire District.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In the highly unlikely event that the Town of Atherton were able to even make a case before LAFCO to detach the residents within the Town's boundaries from the Fire District and then the Town prevailed, even more unlikely since LAFCO's mission is to improve efficiency not promulgate smaller units of government, under California law the Town would only receive the amount of funds that the District spends within the Town of Atherton. The Town would not receive all of the property tax dollars that the District collects from the residents who reside within the Town of Atherton.

Exhibit 1 in this case would be the Town's own study - not a very smart use of Town funds.


8 people like this
Posted by WMP
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Atherton needs a fire department like they need a police department. Outsource both!


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Actually residents of the UncommonWealth of Atherton pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits from all of these other units of government:
The elementary school districts,
The high school district,
The Fire District,
The sanitary district,
San Mateo Junior College,
The County of San Mateo,
The State of California
and the Federal government.


Just imagine what the Town could "save" if it detached from all of those other government entities!

For schools alone I estimate Atherton residents only receive about 30 cents of services for each tax dollar that they spend. I asked the Town for the actual amounts but the Town does not collect such information nor have they bothered to request it from the school districts.

I asked Cong. Eshoo to provide similar revenue and expense figures for the Federal government and that information has so far not been provided.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town Manager has now informed me that they will request the school expenditures for Atherton residents data.


I predict the "payback" for school revenues vs expenditures will be about 30 cents on the dollar.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" it seems to me that what ever you say about this issue, regardless of disclaimers, you are speaking as President of the Fire District."

Wrong - When I made my remarks to the Council last year that are quoted in the article I explicitly did so as a CITIZEN.
When I posted my remarks above I explicitly stated "Speaking for myself (and NOT on behalf of the Fire Board)
here are my answers to those questions:"


Assuming elected office does not deprive an individual of their First Amendment right of Free Speech.


17 people like this
Posted by Make Atherton Great Again
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 9, 2017 at 7:56 pm

So the Atherton position seems to be that they're tired of subsidizing the poor people of East Palo Alto, albeit without saying that too overtly? Would love to see the Almanac call up EPA, especially their lawyer, and get some quotes on that angle.


5 people like this
Posted by Pot meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 10, 2017 at 9:50 am

If you follow the "Athertonians pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits" argument to its logical conclusion, then we should abolish all taxes, and all government services should be provided on a fee-for-service model.

I am open to experimenting with this idea, starting with the Fire District. Let's see how it operates without any property tax revenue, and instead relies on the fees it collects for building plan checks and sprinkler permit. As for professional firefighters and paramedics, let's privatize those functions and move to a purely on-demand service. Perhaps Uber could expand its "service sharing" model, and provide drivers with fire extinguishers and first aid kits.


4 people like this
Posted by Deal!
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 10, 2017 at 10:09 am

My Uber driver this morning would love to make a couple hundred grand, all while shopping for his weekly groceries.

Seriously folks, A-town wants concierge services - start a department and pay for it. They can bring in the newspapers, too.


6 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 10, 2017 at 11:56 am

Peter,

The article says, and I quote:

"Last October, when the Atherton City Council unanimously authorized going forward with the study, fire board member (and now board president) Peter Carpenter ripped into the town."

It does not say Private citizen Peter Carpenter ripped into the town...


5 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 10, 2017 at 12:02 pm

I did not write this article. Watch the video and you will see how I identified myself as an Atherton resident.


13 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 10, 2017 at 5:18 pm

It seems that this initiative is coming from City Hall and not the residents. The reality is that it would cost Atherton much more to fund its own FD rather than the service it receives from Menlo Fire. If one looks around the county, fire agencies are consolidating not separating because it makes sense. Belmont, San Mateo and Foster City have merged; Burlingame, Hillsborough and Millbrae are one department. Brisbane, Pacifica and Daly City work together.

Does it really take an analysis that costs lots of money to let the folks in City Hall this?

What does the police department cost the city versus combining with another agency? Does the city really need its own dispatch center in the new city hall and at what cost to staff it. These are the questions that residents should be asking.


5 people like this
Posted by retired fire fighter
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Mar 10, 2017 at 5:32 pm

STAY WITH MENLO PARK FIRE; ONE OF BEST IN THR WEST COAST AND THEIR FIRE CHIEF IS THE: "RICKY RESCUE"


10 people like this
Posted by Disappointed resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 10, 2017 at 10:29 pm

Bob, you ask some very good questions and I can tell you that the answers have nothing to do with unbiased logic. Atherton continues to run its own police department against any rational analysis because the small bunch of residents who are active in civic affairs have historically received special favors from the PD. [Portion removed]

If you dare to question it, like Peter Carpenter has, you're accused of being a gadfly, as he has been.

The services provided by the MPFD are very important since in addition to the unlikely event of a fire, they provide emergency medical services, which for most of us is not an "if" but a "when". The consultant or whatever RFP process is coming out of this is just a shakedown to try to get the MPFD to pay for part of the town center. It's ridiculous.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 11, 2017 at 7:53 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"If you dare to question it, like Peter Carpenter has, you're accused of being a gadfly, as he has been."

Gadfly is by far the nicest thing I have been called because of my outspokenness.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 11, 2017 at 8:14 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"It seems that this initiative is coming from City Hall and not the residents."

Correct.

No one on the Council seems to have asked what would happen if the dog catches the car it is chasing.

From the residents standpoint this is a total loser - their taxes will not go down, Atherton would only get what the Fire District currently spends in Atherton and the rest of what would have gone to the Fire District would be spread out over all the San Mateo County taxing agencies. And the funds grabbed by Atherton would be insufficient to replace the full spectrum of services currently provided by MPFPD without another Atherton Parcel Tax.

Just plain stupid.


8 people like this
Posted by Too much bias
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 11, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Seems strange the Almanac editor deleted the comment above about how a former mayor used the PD to run a personal database check. The Almanac wrote about it when it happened!


4 people like this
Posted by Resident Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 14, 2017 at 3:20 pm

I believe that government and the Fire Board should be transparent with the budget and moneys.
What do you have to hide? You spend money like its out of style. The highest paid fire department who spend more time out of the neighborhood than focusing on the residents.

I resent the "Entitlement" attitude. Allow Atherton to look at the data. Provide your own if you have it.


3 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Mar 14, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Peter said "Assuming elected office does not deprive an individual of their First Amendment right of Free Speech."

That's what I told Lee Michelson, CEO of Sequoia Healthcare District, when he tried to stifle my speech.

Keep telling it as it is, Peter.


8 people like this
Posted by @Jack Hickey
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:33 pm

[Post removed. Don't use the name @Jack Hickey. Too easy to confuse with Jack Hickey.]


2 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 14, 2017 at 6:06 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Peter,

The West Bay Sanitary District, charges the SAME amount per household (not based on value like the fire district) so the residents of Atherton pay the same amount as any other household in our district.

In fact the Atherton households cost us more due to the distance between homes. so there are fewer hookups per 100 ft of pipe. they in fact enjoy quite a bargain. Our cost of supplying maintenance and pipe updates in highly dense areas is less than in Atherton....

Roy Thiele-Sardina
Director, West Bay Sanitary District


5 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 14, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Roy - Thanks. Given Atherton's interest in fiscal equity you should bill the Town for the subsidy that West Bay provides. Good luck on getting paid.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 15, 2017 at 11:09 am

If this really is an economic matter, then it will cost Atherton more. Even though there is only 1 physical station (Station 3) in the Town, residents receive service from Stations 1, 4, 5, 6, plus service from the Battalion Chief and Truck 1.

Smaller agencies, such as Woodside Fire, cannot muster a first alarm assignment although they capably respond to medical calls. If Atheton decides to go it alone, it would be in a similar position. Even though there are boundary drops (automatic aid) in the County, it would become easily apparent how many time other agencies would be coming into the Town for calls.

This sounds like a city hall disturbance not one initiated by the residents. I would guess most residents are satisfied with the service the currently have.


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