Town Square

Post a New Topic

Election 2007: Measure G would raise spending limit for Menlo Park fire district

Original post made on Oct 23, 2007

Voters in the Menlo Park Fire Protection District are being asked to raise the limit on the amount of money the district can spend each year from $25 million to $40 million.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 24, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (9)

Posted by D Gillis., a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 23, 2007 at 4:49 pm

While the district revenues presently exceed the current cap, going for an increase is superfluous. My question about this measure is whether this is a necessary step to enable a follow-on tax or bond afterwards.


Posted by why???, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 24, 2007 at 9:22 pm


What are they using the money for? All I ever see of those firemen is food runs at Safeway. Do they really have to use a gas guzzling truck costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars every time they get the munchies? Can't they use a car or is that just not as much fun?

I know that the fire district is not part of the city government and are separately funded. Me thinks this little empire is getting more than a bit ambitious with the real estate taxes they collect.


Posted by questions, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 27, 2007 at 12:23 am


Menlo Park Fire District already receives 16 percent of my property tax. By contrast, the city receives 12 percent. The city spends it on things we need, police, libraries, parks, street maintenance, etc. The Fire district goes on heroic rescue mission in faraway places. Nice, but why on our dime? They send humongous fire trucks for medical emergencies or to test a hydrant. why? Sure, all firemen are potentially heroes, every day, every time they put on the uniform. But there sure are a lot of managers, administrators, clerks, etc back at their offices. Are they heroes too? As public employees in uniform, they already get generous pay, PLENTY of time off, GENEROUS pensions at a very high percentage of final years salary, and UNLIMITED health insurance for themselves for life. Is that enough? Since real estate values have been appreciating, is this a case of the fire district asking for it's share? is it good public policy to simply give them a fixed share, irrespective of the need? these questions should be answered before we hand over any more money.


Posted by Ollie Brown, Menlo Park Fire District Board President, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2007 at 11:39 am

In response to the comments posted on the Almanac web site, I would like to submit the following responses:

While the district revenues presently exceed the current cap, going for an increase is superfluous. My question about this measure is whether this is a necessary step to enable a follow-on tax or bond afterwards.
Posted by D Gillis., a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Oct 23, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Dear D. Gillis, The State Constitution restricts the spending of tax revenues by local governments above an annually adjusted limit. This limit is known as an appropriations limit. The Constitution allows the voters to increase a local government's appropriations limit for a period not to exceed four years.

The appropriations limit for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District
is currently set at $25,000,000. By this measure, the Board of Directors of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District proposes to increase the appropriations limit to $40,000,000, for the period commencing November 6, 2007 and ending November 5, 2011. The Board of Directors anticipates that revenues will exceed the current appropriations limit in each of these fiscal years. If the current appropriations limit is not raised, the District will be precluded from appropriating and spending revenues which it expects to receive and therefore it does not believe that it will be able to maintain adequate funding for its operations and activities. This measure will not result in increased taxes; it simply allows full use of those revenues which have already been approved.

A "yes" vote on this measure would allow the appropriations (spending) limit for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District to increase to $40,000,000 for the period commencing November 6, 2007 and ending November 5, 2011. A "no" vote on this measure would not allow the appropriations limit to be increased. This measure passes if a majority of those voting on the measure vote

This measure is necessary to ensure the superior delivery of fire and emergency services that protect the people and property in Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and unincorporated areas of the County. It will NOT increase taxes. The change in appropriations limit to $40,000,000 allows the District to fully use revenues that have already been approved. An amendment to the State Constitution in 1979 imposes an appropriations limit on tax revenues of most government agencies including Fire Districts.

The District's original limit was based on the revenues during FY 1978.The limit is adjusted yearly for inflation, the adjustment formula does not account for increase and size of buildings or for increased demand for services, such as prevention, public education, New programs such as; Paramedic Engine Companies, CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) training for communities to be prepared to handle emergency and new fire protection programs that improves life safety within the fire district.

To increase the appropriations limit to $40,000,000 it's necessary that District voters approve the increase in the limit. A "YES" vote will enable the District to spend tax revenues over the next four years on the delivery of fire and emergency services within the District. If this limit is not
increased, the District will not have the ability to control the use of all its tax dollars and may limit the District's ability to maintain its current level of care and service.
THIS MEASURE WILL NOT RESULT IN ANY ADDITIONAL TAXES OR COSTS TO DISTRICT RESIDENTS. And is not a necessary step to enable a follow-on tax or bond afterwards.

What are they using the money for? All I ever see of those firemen is food runs at Safeway. Do they really have to use a gas guzzling truck costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars every time they get the munchies? Can't they use a car or is that just not as much fun?
I know that the fire district is not part of the city government and are separately funded. Me thinks this little empire is getting more than a bit ambitious with the real estate taxes they collect.

Posted by why???, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Oct 24, 2007 at 9:22 pm

Dear why, See above comments on funding. As far as the firefighters grocery shopping at Safeway; Fire companies MUST remain "In service" at all times and remain as a unit ready to respond at all times. If they took a smaller vehicle to shop, the "Unit" would not be together with proper equipment and assignments to respond to emergencies, jeopardizing safety and quality of service. Today's firefighters are constantly away from their fire stations on alarms, training, Fire prevention inspecting, covering for other Engine companies at alarms, and yes, as they work on a 48 hour schedule, shopping for groceries for their meals.

Menlo Park Fire District already receives 16 percent of my property tax. By contrast, the city receives 12 percent. The city spends it on things we need, police, libraries, parks, street maintenance, etc. The Fire district goes on heroic rescue mission in faraway places. Nice, but why on our dime? They send humongous fire trucks for medical emergencies or to test a hydrant. Why? Sure, all firemen are potentially heroes, every day, every time they put on the uniform. But there sure are a lot of managers, administrators, clerks, etc back at their offices. Are they heroes too? As public employees in uniform, they already get generous pay, PLENTY of time off, GENEROUS pensions at a very high percentage of final years salary, and UNLIMITED health insurance for themselves for life. Is that enough? Since real estate values have been appreciating, is this a case of the fire district asking for it's share? Is it good public policy to simply give them a fixed share, irrespective of the need? These questions should be answered before we hand over any more money.
Posted by questions, a resident of the Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2007 at 12:23 am

Dear Linefield Oaks resident, See above comments on funding, Several additional comments to statements by Linfield Oaks neighborhood. Menlo Fire has to rely on only property taxes while cities have several resources such as; sales tax, hotel tax, business tax, property tax, etc. Our Fire District does respond to many incidents outside the fire district and with the exception of local "Mutual and Automatic Aid" (which goes both ways), the disasters that Menlo Fire responds to are completely reimbursed by the state and federal governments including those that are hired back to fill in while the disaster team is away. Having plenty of time off: Firefighters work a 56 hour work week. Unlimited Health Care for life: Menlo Fire employee's do not have this benefit.

I hope that this response helps to clear up some misconceptions about the Menlo Park Fire District and the services it provides.

Ollie Brown, Board President, Menlo Park Fire Protection District




Posted by informed voter, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 30, 2007 at 1:16 am

Point 1 - Only a small fraction of the District's emergency calls, 2-3pct, have anything to do with fire. We need a good EMS service more than a fire department. Many communities across the country are well served by private companies that provide EMS services.

Point 2 - Annual fire losses range in the district range from the low hundreds of thousands to low millions. Are we to spend $40mil to prevent such low losses?

Point 3 - The fire district has been very astute about cultivating its image in the community, showing up with the fire engines for picture ops with all the little kiddies at every public event and the firemen pancake breakfasts. Create visibility in the community to engender warm fuzzy feelings of safety. Does the District perhaps spend too much time on PR, and too little time on life safety. How does the District really rate compared to its peers?

Point 4 - As a separately funded entity, with money from Sacramento, the fire district DOES NOT need to compete for money that the city might allocate to other, possibly more urgent needs.

Point 5 - With a small, elected board, ostensibly for oversight purposes, it is all too easy for District management to "manage" the board. Indeed the board members, a number of which have worked as firefighters, end up as advocates for the District itself. This outcome compromises their first duty to the the taxpayers, fiduciary skepticism

Point 6 - Mr. Brown is correct that Measure G will not increase taxes. It will however, reserve funds for the District, possibly diverting it from more useful purposes. The District is clearly aware that the runaway real estate values in our area are a potential windfall for their budget. So as long as they can convince voters to vote for these measures with careful community relations (see point 3), they can share in the windfall. Lost in this calculus is WHETHER this is good for the public.

Point 7 - One year ago, the District persuaded the voters to pass Measure O to set the appropriations limit at $25 million dollars. As Measure O passed with 79% yes, perhaps the District has calculated that as long as community perception of the firemen was so good, why not cash it in for a MUCH higher appropriations limit of $40 million.

Point 8 - The areas served by the District have not seen growth. From the last census in 2000 to the five years ending in 2005, the three cities in the district saw a population increase of 1595 persons. This is an increase of 2.3 percent over a five year period. The notion that the area is growing like weeds in erroneous. To build a house, we have to tear down a house. For this growth, we should increase the appropriations limit by 60 percent? Why?

Point 9 - The District has adopted budget in the current fiscal year of over $27 million dollars. In 1998, the budget was $12 million. The growth rate in this period is over 9 percent per year, far in excess of inflation and of population growth in the area served. This is excessive.

Point 10 - The District serves approximately 90 thousand residents of MP, Ath, EPA, and the unincorporated county. At a budget of $27 million, the cost is about $300 per capita. By contrast, in this election year, voters in Colma are being asked to support their local fire district at a rate of $150 per HOUSEHOLD.

Point 11 - It is known in some circles that the District has expansion plans. These plans include the construction of new headquarters, possibly on purchased land. It is unclear how new administrative offices will serve the residents of the district.

Point 12 - Mr. Brown's response has failed to make a case that an increased appropriations limit has any purpose other than more money is more happy times at the Fire District.

FULL DISCLOSURE - Nothing I have stated is in any way insider information. I have no special knowledge, but I am a computer techie with pretty good search engine skills. I am also quite skeptical when public officials ask for money and I almost always reflexively resist. It took less than two hours for me to research and write this. Now I can vote informed. I hope I have informed someone out there.


Posted by Ollie Brown, Menlo Park Fire District Board President, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 30, 2007 at 11:58 am

Dear informed voter,

First I would like to thank you for your viewpoints. They were very insightful and I genuinely appreciate your taking the time and effort to submit your opinions and findings. The following is my response to the issues that you raise.

Point 1 and 2 - Indeed EMS is a major portion of the fire districts responses and that is why our training and certification has greatly been focused on the paramedic program where a certified paramedic is assigned to each and every fire company to provide the very best emergency care. This is a new program since the 1979 appropriations limit was set and is costly to provide. While fire losses are comparatively low considering what there is to burn in the community, fire agencies must prepare for the potential risk. Your fire insurance rates are based upon the fire agencies ability to protect. Just a look at what occurred with the disastrous fires in Southern California just this past week, It is hard to imagine, but without proper fire protection, it would have been much worse.

Point 3 – The district is very active in preparing and presenting programs such as the Pancake Breakfast, but not for the reasons that you mention. They are done to inform and educate the communities on fire prevention, disaster preparedness, home and business safety and anything else that we can do to protect and educate. One of our greatest assets are the children that see our programs. We are at schools monthly for fire drills inspections and education that they bring home to their families to help prevent fires and save lives.

Point 4 – The fire district is a separate special district that does not compete with cities for funding. And the district does not receive funding from Sacramento, on the contrary, Sacramento has a history of taking funds from Special districts such as the Education Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) where for this years budget $3,185,100. is taken away from The Menlo Park Fire Districts funding.

Point 5 – All you have to do is to attend any of our monthly meetings to see this board in action in managing the finances of the district. All members of this board takes their fiduciary responsibility very seriously. We are advocates for both, the district and our constituents as well.

Point 6 – During this time of economic upturn the district board has in fact established a policy of putting a set percentage of the budget into dedicated reserves for capital improvement programs for facilities, apparatus and equipment replacement. This serves two purposes in fiscal management, by allowing the district to operate during the period of time when the district does not receive property taxes from July 1 till after December 10 without paying interest from borrowing the funds from the county, it is proactive planning to provide funds for aging infrastructure. You also can be assured that there will come a time when the economy is not as robust and the property tax revenues are diverted to the state by legislation to fund other programs like ERAF.

Point 7 – Admittedly, this was a mistake on our part by not properly forecasting necessary funding for future needs. Since then we have set up new accounting procedures to prevent this from happening again.

Point 8 – You only need to look at the changes and grown in East Palo Alto and the sizes of homes being rebuilt in Menlo Park and Atherton. It's not a great population grown but density in the structures within the communities. The raise in the appropriations limit does not mean that the district will be spending to the limit, only that it can if needed providing the funding is there.

Point 9 – Take away the ERAF funds that goes to the state the budget is $24,667,500. I agree that this is a substantial grown rate from 1998, but necessary to maintain the protection level required to provide our communities.

Point 10 – Colma is a volunteer fire department with only one part time paid position.

Point 11 – Through strategic planning, the district is looking at several aging and inadequate fire stations. This is part of forecasting the future needs of improving infrastructure to better serve our communities.

Point 12 – Believe me, money is not what makes the fire district happy. I can tell you for sure what makes it UNHAPPY, and that is when we cannot provide the properly trained and equipped firefighter to alarms where an emergency of any kind exists. To see the pain and suffering from the effects of fire first hand is motivation enough to do all that can be to prevent it from happening again.

Finally, I truly hope that you become involved in helping YOUR fire district. You are more that welcome to attend any of the board meetings and provide your input. Ollie


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 31, 2007 at 6:04 am

When California voters approved Proposition 13 the ability of units of government to raise their tax rates was severely limited. In addition, limits were placed on how much a unit of government could spend in any tax year – subject to change by the voters of each unit of government. Measure G does NOT increase the taxes or the tax rate for the residents of the Fire District but would allow the District to spend funds that it receives from the existing tax rate.

If the District's currently allowed taxes and reserves (prudently saved from prior years) exceeded the currently allowed expenditure limit of $25 million then the District would not currently be allowed to use any of the excess for any of its current operating expenses. And those funds in excess of $25 million could well be diverted by the State to other uses having nothing to do with the District or its residents or any of the cities served by the District.

Measure G simply ensures that the taxes we pay stay in our community and are used for our benefit.

Peter F. Carpenter


Posted by That's not Right..., a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Nov 2, 2007 at 12:13 am


I have noticed that the Fire District has posted a number of signs advocating support for Measure G. Unfortunately, these signs are posted on streets and sidewalks in the public right of way. This is against election rules. All campaign signs must be on private property. Please remove these signs.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 4, 2007 at 2:28 pm

The Fire District has NOT posted any signs advocating support for Measure G - to do so would violate the law which prohibits public agencies from expending funds to advocate for or against such a measure. Anyone who can read can see that the signs were posted by the Firefighters Association which is a political action group over which the Fire District has absolutely no control. Hopefully the author of this complaint will read the official election material more carefully than he or she has read these signs.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

David's Tea: now open in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 2,705 views

Universal Language
By Cheryl Bac | 4 comments | 1,515 views

On Tour at Selective Schools: Chapman, La Verne, Redlands, Whittier
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,508 views

Anglo Menlo Park
By Paul Bendix | 0 comments | 520 views

Council election, and then some.
By Stuart Soffer | 1 comment | 286 views