News


Could Atherton withdraw from the fire district?

Council to discuss fire district funding in study session

For years, Atherton officials have groused that it appears the Menlo Park Fire Protection District gets more property tax revenue from the town's property owners than Atherton does. Now, the town is considering doing something about it, with options including withdrawing from the fire district.

Atherton's City Council will hold a study session on the funding of the fire district at its Wednesday, Sept. 7, meeting, which starts at 3 p.m. in the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road.

The staff report from City Manager George Rodericks says that in 2015, based on the assessed valuation of properties in Atherton, the fire district received more than $4.5 million more in property taxes from Atherton landowners than the town did: $13.8 million for the fire district versus $9.3 million for the town.

The report says that, according to the county assessor's office, of every property tax dollar paid by Atherton landowners, the fire district receives slightly less than 16 cents while the town receives slightly less than 11 cents. Atherton property owners also pay an additional parcel tax for town services.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman says that a report done for the fire district comes up with different numbers: his report says Atherton provided $10.8 million to the district in the 2015-16 fiscal year, a figure that is also higher than the $9.3 million the town received from property tax.

The fire district provides fire, emergency response and emergency medical services to Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and some adjacent unincorporated areas. Atherton provides services that include police, planning and building, park and public works, including drainage and street work, to its residents.

The funding levels are a legacy of Proposition 13, passed by California voters in 1978. The following year the state Legislature set the property tax allocations for various government entities at the percentage they had received the year before.

If the consultants find the cost to provide fire services to the town is considerably less than the amount of property tax revenue collected by the fire district, the town could "discuss alternative fire service models which could include, but not be limited to, detachment from the Fire District," Mr. Rodericks' report says.

It suggests the town could also ask the district to share tax revenue, offer additional services or offer more "fire-related infrastructure."

The town had earlier asked the fire district if it might be willing to help pay for an emergency operations center or other facilities that could be used by the district in the civic center now being designed, but the fire district declined to participate.

The report also goes into what the town would need to do if it wants to separate from the fire district.

Because the discussion is a study item, the council will not take any official action at the meeting, but it could direct staff to come back with more information.

The staff report says that a consultant could be hired by the end of the year and return with a report by summer 2017. The estimated cost of the study is $35,000 to $50,000.

"The Fire District would be involved at all phases of the analysis and any ultimate decisions made by the Council," the report says.

Fire board director Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton and the fire district's liaison with the town, called the town's efforts "deeply misguided." He said the town "lacks both the authority and the expertise to deal with this issue." The fire district's board is elected to represent residents' "interests on this matter," he said.

"There is no way that the town of Atherton can compel the fire district to make a contribution to the town," he said, adding that if the town did find a way to reduce the fire district's revenues, those property taxes would go back to the county for redistribution.

"Atherton property owners would receive practically none of the reduction," he said.

"We have a town that cannot survive without an on-going parcel tax and cannot even fund a replacement for a decrepit police station, so it is desperate to find money from anyone but its taxpayers," he said. "Sadly it is looking at a well-managed fire district to solve its poor fiscal management problems."

Chief Schapelhouman said he worries that even talking about possibly breaking up the fire district could cause problems with hiring and employee morale.

"This is a conversation they can have. But is it a necessary conversation?" he asked. "It almost feels like a little bit of a setup and a shakedown."

Chief Schapelhouman also questioned the timing of the study session, coming immediately after the town cancelled the November City Council election because only incumbents Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest filed for the two open spots. The two were appointed to new terms on Aug. 24.

"Suddenly this huge issue comes up?" Chief Schapelhouman said. "It's convenient that it's right after the incumbents don't have challengers."

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Black Bag
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2016 at 5:51 pm

The town should in order to save money is to out source their police agency to San Mateo County Sheriff. I bet about 70 per cent of their tax funds, finance their police agency. All total fire stations supply services to the town, to include support services for their Emergency Management, CERT, and FEMA TF -3.

This will never work and once again the town council is way out of line.


4 people like this
Posted by citizen
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Who pry tell are our so knowledgeable city council people going to get to provide us Fire & EMS services, I ask you ?
How long will it take Redwood City Fire to show up or ? Out sourcing PD will go along way to help shore up their budget
issue, but noooo !


14 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Withdraw from the MP Fire District? Unbelievably stupid.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Essentially what we have is a Town that is unable to manage its fiscal affairs, which cannot survive without perpetual parcel taxes, which is trying to raise money by auction off the naming rights for its streets, which cannot afford to replace a decrepit police station and is therefore simply using the Willie Sutton Rule ( “I rob banks because that is where the money is”) to identify better managed public entities in an attempt to steal their money.

The TOWN of ATHERTON pays nothing for the services that the Fire District provides to the land and buildings owned by the TOWN.

The residents of the Fire District who happen to reside within the political boundaries of the Town pay property taxes to both entities - I believe that those residents receive far better value for their Fire District property taxes than they do for their parcel tax inflated property taxes paid to the Town.


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

BTW the title on this article is misleading.

The Town of Atherton cannot "withdraw" from the Fire District simply because the Town of Atherton is not part of the Fire District. The Fire District was formed before the Town of Atherton was even in existence.

The Fire District is the servant and the agent of the citizens whom it serves - not the underlying political entities that were created after the Fire District was established by the citizens to meet an urgent public need.


11 people like this
Posted by Ridiculous
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Really ridiculous. Remember the fire district is also providing emergency medical services.

Doing the fiscally responsible and common sense outsourcing of the POLICE DEPARTMENT has been stymied by a handful of country club residents who get special treatment from these police officers and have thrown their weight around. The police union has also bought elections.

How are you going to feel when you or a loved one needs emergency medical services and they don't arrive on time? Isn't this much more important than having Atherton's own police department? If it goes to the sheriff, the service will be as good or better, but no favoritism any longer.

Plus, this is really circular. The country club residents want to build this town center for the police, and now want to get rid of the fire department to pay for it.

Just how far is this going to go?


3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2016 at 12:19 am

> The Fire District was formed before the Town of Atherton was even in existence.

Yes, but according to San Mateo County LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), the Fire District as currently constituted was organized in 1951. See: Web Link

> The Town of Atherton cannot "withdraw" from the Fire District simply because the Town of Atherton is not part of the Fire District.

The process works like this. A county's LAFCO is responsible for fire district boundaries in California. Folks within MPFD from Atherton petition LAFCO to leave the district. Atherton's financial study gets used to prove Atherton residents would be better off without MPFD.

> How are you going to feel when you or a loved one needs emergency medical services and they don't arrive on time?

Either Atherton would contract with an agency that has the resources (perhaps even MPFD), or run their own, or use a private non-government service. LAFCO wouldn't allow the split otherwise. Hasn't Atherton already done this with their building department?


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 8:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From the Town's own Staff Report:

"The Fire District is an independent governmental agency with its own governing board. The District is not a Joint Powers Authority in which the Town is a member. As a separate governmental agency it is responsible for its own revenue and allocation of that revenue. Revenues collected by the District via property tax may be expended anywhere within the District boundaries and on any service consistent with its obligations as a Fire District. The Town has no discretion on how, where, or on what the District expends its resources."

Spending $50k to study this issue would be a waste of taxpayer's money and such waste would certainly be one more reason that the residents of Atherton would vote against renewing the Town's current parcel tax.


1 person likes this
Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2016 at 8:33 am

Roberto is a registered user.

Without having access to all of the reports, the following questions come to mind:
1. Can the Town make the Police DPS - so they serve as both Police and Fire and somewhat resolving the issue of commute?
2. If they outsource, as an example to RWCFD or Woodside Fire, why can't they use existing Firehouse in Atherton?

3. When can a private company come in a fill? Reson: Many times private companies are more effective than state run unions, not the purpose of this discussion, a simple question


6 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:45 am

It's ridiculous how much tax money the Fire District receives as compared to the cities it serves. Good for Atherton for raising the issue.


7 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:30 am

how is it even possible that Atherton is in dire fiscal straights. Seems like mismanagement to me.


14 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:54 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District does not serve cities, it serves the 90,000 plus residents of the Fire District. Those residents have elected five Fire Board members whose job it is to ensure that those taxpayers receive high quality, efficient services.

As noted above the Fire District was established in 1916 - before Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto even existed.

The allocation of property taxes was established and fixed by the voters in the passage of Prop 13 and Prop 8 in 1978. It is interesting that the property tax allocations which have existed for almost 40 years are suddenly a problem for Atherton. The only thing that seems to have changed is that the Town of Atherton wants to build a new Town Center, it has not built up a building replacement fund (as the Fire District has wisely done and which has funds for the timely replacement of all of its facilities),it has foolishly promised the taxpayers that it won't use Atherton property or parcel tax money to build the new Town Center so now it is trying to steal property tax money from the Fire District.

Nothing that the Town of Atherton can do regarding the Fire District will reduce the property tax bills of Atherton residents. Their taxes will remain the same and any reduction in property taxes going to the Fire District will revert to the County who, by law, must share that "residual revenue" with every taxing entity in the County.


4 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2016 at 12:22 pm

The Town of Atherton could facilitate an exit from the MPFD by doing the study that they've just proposed and sponsoring a ballot initiative asking residents if they wish to leave MPFD. The results of the study and the advisory ballot could be taken to San Mateo County's LAFCO. Atherton could ask LAFCO to redraw MPFD's boundaries to exclude Atherton. This is the process under California law and has happened in other counties and their fire districts.

LAFCO's have been part of California law since the 1960's. After firefighting technology rapidly evolved in the late 1980's many of fire agencies changed and merged boundaries especially in places like Santa Clara County. Today, most of the boundary changes are driven by cost and budget considerations.

By comparison, Stanford pays Palo Alto $6.5 million a year for fire and medical service. As you know, Stanford has a huge number of calls compared with Atherton. Palo Alto Fire operates Station 6 on the Stanford campus including both an engine and a truck with a 100 foot ladder as well as a battalion chief. Palo Alto Fire also has a full time paramedic medical service with their own transport using a growing fleet of their own ambulances.

MPFD is an excellent department, but Atherton residents could exercise a process to leave the district if they desired. MPFD was fortunate to have large share of revenue for such a long time. But, the MPFD revenue split was always an anomaly because of Propositions 8 and 13.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:17 pm

Atherton cannot leave the fire district despite what people have written about LAFCO. MPFD is a separate government agency not a joint powers authority.

Just a bad idea all around.


10 people like this
Posted by Interested reader
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Peter, this article has certainly caught my attention. Mainly by your response to the question. You are really not acting quite yourself here. Normally you encourage people to ask the hard questions about government spending. But in this case, when Atherton attempts to study the actual cost of providing fire service to its residents a pretty simple question you act like a teenager who's mother is about to look under his mattress. Study the APD but not us! Bad management! You can't do this!

Atherton apparantly has tried on several occasions to get this info from the board, LAFCO and others, but appears to get the cold shoulder at every turn. As a taxpayer who normally hates a study of any kind I'd be willing to fork up my dollar to see how much Atherton residents should be paying for this service.

Maybe the reason the MPFD is as you call it so well managed is the fact they are rolling in the dough, so much so, they are inventing ways to spend it like drones, new equipment and other niceties that are not afforded to other town services. I mean they flung the 150k at the almendral signal project like it was no big deal, maybe there is something to this.was this a way of getting atherton to back down?

As a resident and taxpayer I say Atherton do the study. I want to know how much it costs to run a fire department in a 5 square mile city. If thirteen million a year is the answer Im good with it. if not, lets at least have a conversation?


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I am all for studies but suggest that any study should be focused improving outcomes rather than finding ways to solve Atherton's budget problems.

The future of fire and emergency medical response is area wide consolidation of fire agencies, not splitting existing agencies into smaller parts.

The evidence is clear that agencies like the Orange County Fire Agency and Sac Metro Fire provide superior level of service and do so at a lower cost per citizen served.

The Atherton study would be a waste of taxpayer's money because it is looking at a small piece of the picture rather than taking a much larger perspective.

The Fire Board has been on record for years supporting a County-wide fire agency consolidation study.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT
Resolution No. 1181-07
16 Oct 2007
RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT
DECLARING IT IS IN THE PUBLIC'S INTEREST FOR THE BOARD AND AFFECTED RESIDENTS TO
REVIEW AND CONSIDER ABROAD RANGE OF POTENTIAL CONSOLIDATION ALTERNATIVES TO
IMPROVE SERVICE AND REDUCE COSTS AND IT IS IN THE PUBLIC'S INTEREST TO ENCOURAGE
ALL OTHER ENTITIES IN SAN MATEO COUNTY THAT OPERATE FIRE AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL
SERVICE ACTIVITIES TO ADOPT A SIMILAR POLICY
The District Board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District finds and determines as follows:
(a) WHEREAS, on Wednesday August 15, 2007 the San Mateo County Local Agency
Formation Commission ("SM LAFCO") pursuant to California Government Code Sections 56430 and 56425 considered a report documenting a Municipal Service Review and Sphere of Influence update for Menlo Park Fire Protection District ("District") and Woodside Fire Protection District; and
(b) WHEREAS, the SM LAFCO report analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of
consolidation or reorganization of the Menlo Park and Woodside Fire Protection Districts. The report included the options of maintaining the status quo of two side-by-side Fire Districts or consolidating the Menlo Park and Woodside Fire Districts; and
(c) WHEREAS, on September 18, 2007 the SM LAFCO presented the District Board with the Municipal Service and Sphere of Influence Review; and
(d) WHEREAS, specific to the concept of consolidation, the Strategic Planning Commission of the District Board recommended to the Board that it direct the Chief and District staff to draft a letter or policy announcement to all elected officials and citizens of the local region to review and consider both the
positive and negative impacts of fire district and fire service consolidation.
In consideration of the foregoing findings and determinations,
IT IS RESOLVED by the District Board as follows:
1. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board declares that it is in the public's interest for the District Board to carefully review and consider whether consolidation is a desirable action and, if so, the available range of potential consolidation alternatives from the local to the County wide level in order to improve service and reduce costs.
2. The District Board encourages all entities in San Mateo County that operate fire or emergency medical services activities to adopt a similar policy towards the review and consideration of consolidation options and to engage in intergovernmental and community dialogue so that all issues may
be explored openly and in solidarity.
3. The District Board wishes to emphasize that it currently has no predetermined position on the merits of consolidation in general or any particular consolidation option in particular.


2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@Roberto: The fire stations in Atherton. Do they belong to Atherton or the Menlo Park Fire Board. Bet they belong to the Fire Board. Didn't the Fire Board up grade the stations on their dime????


4 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:24 pm

To correct some misinformation, the town of Atherton is doing fine financially. It's running significant budget surpluses and budgeting intelligently. It's current city council have been great financial stewards.

Where Atherton does need money is in capital infrastructure. Buildings need to be rebuilt or significantly renovated every 60-80 years and most of Atherton's structures are at the end of their useful life. The town could just keep patching the buildings up for another 10 years, but the cost of that is increasing with every passing year.

Peter is correct that capital replacement projects are something that governments should set aside money for from the very beginning. It's just very hard for the typical political leader to do. In any case, none of the current city council members were around when the decision not to save for the eventual civic center replacement was made.

The city council made no promise that town funds would not be used for the new town center. The voters asked for it by passing a proposition. In fact, the proposition prevents the town from even saving up a reserve to pay for a new town center. That's why it has to go after other government agencies for the money.

Taking a step back, property tax revenue allocation among local agencies needs more flexibility. There has to be an easier way to change the percentages of which government services the people want money to spent on each year.

I will give you an Atherton example. California requires a specific percentage of property taxes go to library services. Atherton generates so much library tax revenue that it has a surplus of $1 million each year. And they are actually trying to spend this down, but can't because so much money is coming in. It's a good problem to have.

If the state gave Atherton more flexibility, it could redirect those library funds to eliminate the parcel tax. Or it could use the funds to pay off a bond for the new town center without raising taxes or reducing current services. But Atherton does not have that flexibility because these tax revenue percentages are frozen by state law whether it makes sense for individual communities or not.

That is why I'm saying Atherton is doing fine financially. It is just handcuffed by what the people voted for and state law in how tax revenue must be allocated.


5 people like this
Posted by Handcuffed?
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Apple, your comments are misguided because every other city in California is "handcuffed" the same way.

Atherton has to resort to levying a parcel tax because some residents have insisted on maintaining Atherton's own police department (see Ridiculous' post above). Because the town is so small, the overhead associated with maintaining the department is a very significant amount of the budget instead of a much smaller amount that would be associated with a larger city.

Add to this that the city council who have been "great financial stewards" have also seen fit to pay the police among the highest if not highest pay packages around, even though the typical argument for high police salaries (hazards of the job) is as small in Atherton as you can get in California.

There's no other reason for the parcel tax, though I'm sure if we outsourced the police department the council would still find ways to spend it if we let them.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The city council made no promise that town funds would not be used for the new town center. The voters asked for it by passing a proposition."

The Council wrote that measure and worked hard to get it passed - it was the Council's choice of language.

A smart Council would take the issue back to the voters stating that it has tried and failed to get enough donations (and I was one of the contributors) but that the need for a new police station is so great that the Town must now raise the funds ASAP to do so and property tax dollars or a voter approved bond (like the school districts always use) are the only possible source for those funds.

Instead they are wasting their money on things over which they have no control.


6 people like this
Posted by Interested reader
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 2, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Dwelling over this for the past hour or so has given me the following impression of Atherton.

1) Police Department is good (90+ rating per last survey)
2) Fire Department good
3) Streets good (almost very good) Web Link
4) Parcel tax $750 per year, not really a game breaker for any of the residents.
5) Building department is good if there's a better one around, id like to see it.

So Police is expensive, but not 1/2 of what fire costs. Streets and buildings were outsourced in 2011, and are top rated in both. What is wrong with looking at what we spend on fire services to see if its fair and equitable and not like the library where there is more money than they know what to do with?

And I do want to believe that if Atherton residents choose to go to LAFCO with a better solution for fire services than what MPFD offers, they will be allowed to go there. I don't think there are any sacred cows left?


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"And I do want to believe that if Atherton residents choose to go to LAFCO with a better solution for fire services than what MPFD offers, they will be allowed to go there."

If the RESIDENTS go to LAFCO then Absolutely they would be allowed!!

But the Town Council is only five residents and the Council has no standing on this issue - the Town cannot withdraw from something that it never was part of.

And I seriously doubt the Atherton residents would vote to "detach" from the Fire District simply because there is no way that those residents could get the same level and quality of service that they currently receive anywhere else - except from a much larger consolidation of fire agencies. My opinion is a testable hypothesis.


3 people like this
Posted by Fascinating
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Interested reader, along that spirit, do you also want to support doing a study to see if we can save money by outsourcing the police department?


8 people like this
Posted by Relative Costs
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Reading between the lines, it looks like Atherton want's to know if they are being "overcharged" for MPFD's services. Looking the MPFD adopted district budget for 2015/16 (available on their website), expenditures are projected to be $37.5M which will be paid for, mostly, with property tax covering $34.3M (92.4%), with the balance coming from fees and inter. government transfers.

Looking strictly at spending (services) per capita, this works out to $416.67/person served, for each of the estimated 90,000 people in the MPFD service area. Factoring for the 92.4% contribution from property tax, this works out to a $385.00 per person contribution via property tax.

Applying this linearly to Atherton's estimated population of 7,160 people, the property tax contribution would be $2.757M, 5x more than the $13.8M figure from Barbara Wood's article ($1,925/person). I'm guessing Atherton wants to know if this is appropriate, or not.



Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

I learned something here.

The Atherton free library tax shown in an incremental tax rate area breakdown is included as ~ 0.032% of the 1% general property tax. It was created by the legislature. See: Web Link
Unlike other agencies sharing that 1% tax, they do not have an elected board of directors which could agree to give up a share of their tax revenue, or decline its share of the tax on an annual basis, as was suggested by the Grand Jury in the case of the Sequoia Healthcare District after it sold Sequoia Hospital. That would result in a reduction in property owners taxes. MPFPD could give up a share of it's tax revenue if that was the equitable thing to do. Likewise, the cities of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto could give up a share of their revenue to the MPFPD if that was the equitable thing to do. A net reduction in revenue for the MPFPD would not be a smart thing to do.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Atherton want's to know if they are being "overcharged" for MPFD's services."

The Town of Atherton does not pay anything for the services which the Town of Atherton receives from the Fire District for the Town owned properties and buildings - the Fire District provides those services for free.

And in my 12 years of service as an elected Director of the Fire District (and a resident of Atherton) I have never received a single complaint from an Atherton resident about the cost of MPFPD services. The only complaints are from less well managed local governments.

Note that Atherton has less than 8% of the population of the Fire District but currently has 20% of the serving Directors and previously had 40% of the serving Directors.


6 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 2, 2016 at 5:03 pm

@Handcuffed
The last two Atherton parcel tax renewals won with three quarters of the vote. Nobody even bothered writing an argument against the last parcel tax in the election materials. Based on voting behavior, a strong majority wants the services that the tax pays for.

@Ridiculous's post made the assumption that Atherton's ploy was to save money. That is incorrect. Atherton could eliminate the police department, save a bunch of money, but legally could not use the savings on the civic center due to the voter measure. Atherton could raise taxes or pass a bond, but it would still be precluded from spending money on the civic center. Now, if MPFD gave money for the civic center, then that would be permissible.

@Peter
If you remember back to that time, a specific council faction got this measure on the ballot with a 3-2 vote. It was not a consensus measure by any means. It was a very low time for the community with a poisonous political atmosphere. Two of those in the majority have left the council and what remains is a consensus oriented council, way more transparent than it was in the past.

The current council is trying to live up to the spirit of the measure, but it's becoming clear they are running out of places to look for money, which is the reason you're butting heads with them. In the end, if they put a measure to repeal on the ballot one day, they can outline the lengths they went to find a way to fund the town center.

If you think about the position they are in politically, it's very hard to ask voters to repeal something they voted strongly in favor of four years ago.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"If you think about the position they are in politically, it's very hard to ask voters to repeal something they voted strongly in favor of four years ago."

I completely agree. But here is where courage and leadership are so important because the alternative is to continue to have a decrepit police station forever.

For example, the vote for renewal of the Atherton parcel tax failed a number of years ago but with strong leadership and a strong information campaign the issue was quickly placed back on the ballot and easily passed.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:24 pm

For the sake of conversation and to address SteveC's question....let's hypothesize, if Atherton were try and go it alone as a stand alone department, the Town would have to build new stations or buy the only one inside the town limits (station 3) and what are current property values in the Town? Then it would have to buy new fire equipment and apparatuses, then hire new staff and firefighters. There are 3 FF per apparatus x 3 shifts; FF salary in San Mateo County starts about $85K. Fire engines start about $700,000 new, and you'll probably need more than 1. Equipment runs at least $100,000/engine. These are just some of the costs -- how much does that up to so far?

Another option would be to contract for services. In both Millbrae and San Carlos's contract, the FFs belong to the contracting agency (Central County and Redwood City). There is some savings because of 1 fire administration (including chief officers) that covers the contracting agency and the contract city. Regardless, it's still costly.

If you look at the history of the fire service in the County, the move has been to consolidate services not separate them. Burlingame, Hillsborough and Millbrae are served by Central County Fire; Belmont, San Mateo and Foster City are moving forward towards 1 department; Pacifica, Daly City and Brisbane are served by North County Fire; HMB contracts with Cal Fire; Woodside Fire covers Portola Valley and Woodside plus some unincorporated areas; finally Menlo Fire covers Menlo Park, Atherton, and East Palo Alto. So it seems regressive for Atherton to think it could become a stand alone department.

What people tend to forget is that the fire departments in the County are called for more than fires and EMS. They also respond to "child locked in a car", "vehicle lockouts", "elevator rescues", "wires down", "tree down", "odor investigations", "turn off sprinklers" and other public assist calls.

As one peels back the onion, one realizes that it's more complicated than just saying Atherton should leave the fire district.

So much for hypothesizing....


1 person likes this
Posted by Hypocrisy abounds
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 3, 2016 at 9:33 am

I see a lot of hypocrisy here, on both sides.

For one, the traditional supporters of the Atherton Police Department (a heavy overlap with the Town Center people) have now become fiscally responsible hawks, questioning the value for funds outlaid on the fire service district (and rightfully so, in my view). But these are the same people who when asked to apply the same fiscally conservative logic to the police department, more or less say shut up, everyone wants/needs it, so it's a sacred cow.

(Yes, we all want/need firemen and EMC in times of emergency also).

On the other hand, Peter Carpenter, who has historically (and, again, rightfully so, in my opinion) questioned the value of having an independent police department in Atherton, is now bristling at applying a similar analysis to the fire district. He is citing a lot of procedural technicalities (and I have no idea whether he's right or not), but the basic common sense that citizens can vote with their wallets on an issue such as which fire department protects us seems to make common sense, and should prevail.

So here's a proposal: let's perform an analysis on both issues, take both issues to the voters (keep/outsource APD and the MPFD), and based on the outcome, decide how to build the Town Center, because the results of this vote would certainly influence how large it needs to be and how much money it will cost.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 9:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"the basic common sense that citizens can vote with their wallets on an issue such as which fire department protects us seems to make common sense, and should prevail."

I totally agree.

The problem here is that the Town of Atherton is NOT the citizens who reside in Atherton.

I believe that the citizens of Atherton who are also part of the Fire District are overwhelmingly satisfied with the quality and cost of service which they receive from the Fire District. What is the basis of my belief - 12 years as an Atherton resident of serving as an elected Director of the Fire Board during which time I have never received a single complaint from an Atherton resident regarding either the quality or cost of our service.

And the Town's objective is clear - it is NOT to reduce the tax level on the residents but as "Mr. Rodericks' report says. It suggests the town could also ask the district to share tax revenue,"


2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 3, 2016 at 11:14 am

SteveC is a registered user.

Maybe time for a new Town Manager??


40 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 11:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Well here is how the Town Manager got himself into this pickle:

A Modern Willie Sutton* Saga

- The Atherton Town Council wants to build a New Town Center including a vitally needed new Police Station
- In order to get citizen buy-in the Council proposed a ballot measure affirming that the Town needed a New Town Center
- In a truly stupid move and in order to ensure passage of the Town Center measure the Council added the sweetener that the taxpayers of the Town of Atherton would not have to pay for THEIR New Town Center
- The measure, unsurprisingly, passed
- The Town then proceeded to try to find donors for the New Town Center
- Very few donors came forward
- The Police Station continues to deteriorate
- The Town Manager starts looking elsewhere for money
- The Town Manager asks Fire District to contribute to the Town Center
- When asked if using Fire District property taxes for Town Center did not violate the Town Council’s pledge not to use property tax dollars a Town Councilman responded “Oh no, we just meant property taxes paid to the Town of Atherton. It is perfectly all right to use property taxes paid to the Fire District’”.
- Finding no mission justified rationale for such a contribution the Fire District declined to make a contribution to the New Town Center.
- The Town Manager then started looking for other sources of funds.
- The elementary school districts were a really ripe target because Atherton residents pay about 40% of the school districts’ budgets but less than 10% of Atherton kids go to the elementary public schools
- But big problem – the elementary school districts don’t have any money
- Ok, back to the Fire District. Even though it serves 100% of the Atherton residents and no Atherton resident has found the need to hire private fire protection (as some have done for police services and most have done for elementary schooling) the Fire District is well managed, has worked hard to control its budgets, has made prudent allocations to reserves for new buildings, reserves for unfunded pension liabilities, etc. so it has “lots of money”
- So Town Manager goes to Town Mayor and says – here is where the money we need is and they won’t just give it to us so let’s see if we can intimidate them with a public hearing and then blackmail them into “sharing their tax revenue with the Town”
- The Police Station continues to deteriorate
-

TO BE CONTINUED

*Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks and he replied “Because that is where the money is.”


39 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Sep 3, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Atherton City Manager George Rodericks has provided the following information in response to some of the questions that have been posted here:

Outsourcing the Police Department and Police Cost

The Town conducted an informal study a number of years ago (prior to my arrival in October 2012) that provided some broad information about outsourcing the Police Department. I believe some of that data is online. Following my arrival the outsourcing issue continued to swirl around in local politics. The Town was in the midst of labor negotiations with the APOA. Because the cloud of outsourcing continued to be discussed in the community and by members of the Council, the Town was having difficulty attracting and retaining police officers. I put the issue before the Council for a decision on whether or not the Town wanted to formally pursue outsourcing of the Police Department. The issue continued to weigh heavily on negotiations and the Town and APOA could easily have reached a stalemate if the issue wasn’t addressed. The 5-0 vote by the Council decided that outsourcing was not an option they wanted to pursue.

This was a knowing decision. It was a decision despite the clear and public acknowledgement that the Town would save money by outsourcing the Police Department. The issue boiled down to service level, local control, and policing model. It was estimated that outsourcing of the Police Department would save the Town approximately 30% assuming the current staffing and deployment levels are maintained. The cost of police services in Atherton is $6,781,283. The total operations budget for the Town is $12,149,639. This represents 55.8% of the Town’s total operational budget - excluding Capital Projects. The Town has 40 full-time employees (not including contract Building, Planning, Engineering, and Public Works staff). The Police Department represents 29 of these staff or 72.5% of the total Town staff. This is a per-capita cost (7,160 residents) of $947. For some comparisons as percent of budget - small towns:

Town of Woodside (Contract) - $1,737,925/$6,408,768 = 27% = per capita = $317.08
Town of Portola Valley (Contract) - $692,100/$4,499,337 = 15% = per capita = $153.19
Town of Tiburon (Town PD) - $3,278,958/$10,838,457 = 30% = per capita = $357.22
City of Belvedere (City PD) - $1,703,434/$4,599,601 = 37% = per capita = $802.75
Town of Atherton (Town PD) - $6,781,283/$12,149,639 = 56% = per capita = $947
Town of Colma (Town PD) - $5,370,490/$13,627,060 = 39% = per capita = $3,599.52

The differences, per capita, even under the contract model is indicative of the service levels, local control and policing models. Some agencies, like Belvedere maintain their own police force even though they too would clearly save significant funds by outsourcing, but outsourcing was not something the community supported for the police services. Issues of rotating officers (-), busting of cars out of Town in support of more regional safety needs (-), and the ability to manage the police locally (+), and the ability to have a higher, locally controlled deployment model (+) factored into their decision making. It essentially boils down to an affluent community desiring local control over its local policing needs. That’s the case in Atherton.

Basic secured property tax revenues to the Town total $7,222,365. Police services are 94% of that cost. This is all publicly available information for comparison purposes. The Town is very transparent.

Number of Fire Stations in Atherton

There is one fire station in Atherton - Station No. 3. This station is manned by 3 firefighters. One of the 3 is a paramedic. However, the Town is also served by Station No. 4 (Menlo Park) and Station No. 1 (Menlo Park). The District operates on the “closest station” network deployment model so the closest station and the closest vehicle regardless of station responds to issues in Atherton.

Detaching from the Fire District

The Town is not seeking to withdraw from the Fire District. The Fire District receives more than $13 million a year from Atherton taxpayers for the provision of basic fire and emergency response. That’s more than the entire operating budget for the Town itself. The Town is asking the following questions:

- Has the Town’s property value’s increased to the point that the funds received by the Fire District via property taxes far exceed the cost to provide fire services to the community?
- If so, what can be done about it?
- Should something be done about it?
- What options do the taxpayers have?

We have been able to address the issue with the County Library Tax and to a degree, have more control as we’re part of a JPA. But the District is independent of the Town. The Town has raised this issue with the Fire District (beginning in 2013/14). We asked:

- How much does the district receive on average annually in property tax revenue from Atherton residents?
- How much does the district expend on fire services (inclusive of any distributed proportionate share of overhead) within Atherton boundaries?
- If there a surplus between these two numbers, where does the surplus go? Is the surplus expended on paying down long-term liabilities? Is the surplus expended on the purchase of capital infrastructure.
- If there is not a surplus, how does the district make up the difference?

The response was: “We don’t track information that way.” So, we’ve been trying to engage the District in this conversation ever since. Ultimately, the Town (and residents) have the ability to detach from the Fire District and provide fire services on their own (contract, their own department, etc.). Doing so would re-align the property taxes to the Town instead of the District (with caveats via a LAFCO process). That’s only one option and a remote one. There are many others, but first, there needs to be an open and transparent conversation with the Fire District about the issue with the facts at hand. At the end of the day, the answer may be similar to the Police Services answer - yes, we pay more for fire services because we enjoy a higher quality of service delivery and a degree of local control. Or the answer may be, wow, that’s a lot more than we want to pay for fire services, District, what can you do to address this issue? Redistribute property taxes amongst the other taxing agencies within the Tax Rate areas? Upgrade Station No. 3? Spend more locally on fire infrastructure? Neither of these answers involve the Town detaching from the Fire District. Neither of these answers involve the District providing funds to the Town.

To be clear, the Town is not pursuing this issue on the basis that we can get fire services cheaper or that we need funding from the Fire District for our own operations. We do not. Those are farthest from the truth. We are a well-managed Town with a fully balanced budget - with a surplus. We presently have nearly a 100% reserve. Our OPEB liability is at a 90% funded level. Our CalPERS long-term liability is well under control. We are not dependent on ERAF or the Town’s Capital Infrastructure Parcel Tax for basic operations - we use it for Capital Projects. For Fiscal Year 2016/17 we have operational revenues over expenditures of $1,285,322 or 10.5%. This is not a revenue alternative issue for the Town. It is purely an equity issue for our residents. We are simply asking the questions and want to have the conversation.

The Town Cannot Withdraw from the District

Yes, the Town can withdraw via a detachment process with LAFCO. The process is a legal LAFCO process that begins with a local affected agency resolution requesting review. Part of the process involves the Town identifying a viable alternative service delivery model. The Town (and its residents) have the ability via detachment from the District to provide fire services to the community. It is within the Town’s purview under the law for local police powers - health, safety, and welfare - general police powers. The Fire District has no such authority or ability with police services. That responsibility for service delivery rests entirely with the Town.

Can the Town use a dual model for Police/Fire as a solution?

Yes. If the Town were to pursue detachment and providing services locally were the option selected, it could opt to have a dual police/fire model similar to Rohnert Park and other communities where officers rotate via one department to police and fire.

Why can’t the Town use the existing firehouse? Can a private company fill the need?

If the Town were to pursue a detachment model existing assets would be distributed and amortized via a LAFCO process. The Town and the District would have to agree on the cost of existing infrastructure should the Town assume it and the Town would have to pay for that infrastructure. This can be done in any number of ways, to include an amortization period whereby the District continues to receive a share of the property tax revenue for fire services and the Town receives the difference. Once the period ends, the Town collects all of the tax for local fire services. Since the tax is associated with the provision of fire services, similar to the library property tax, there is likely to be a restriction on the funds such that they can only be used for fire services. In that case, if the cost for fire services is less than the tax collected, the Town could opt to realign/redistribute the tax amongst the other taxing entities in each affected Tax Rate Area. In doing so, all agencies (Fire, School, Mosquito, Sewer, College, Town, etc.) would receive a proportional share of the redistributed tax.

A private service could be considered, but frankly, I am not sure of the law in California with respect to the provision of service by private sector staffing. There are private medical services, but private sworn fire services - unlikely in California, but worth looking at if that bridge is where we end up.

Town in dire fiscal straights

To be clear, the Town is not pursuing this issue on the basis that we can get fire services cheaper or that we need funding from the Fire District for our own operations. We do not. Those are farthest from the truth. We are a well-managed Town with a fully balanced budget - with a surplus. We presently have nearly a 100% reserve. Our OPEB liability is at a 90% funded level. Our CalPERS long-term liability is well under control. We are not dependent on ERAF or the Town’s Capital Infrastructure Parcel Tax for basic operations - we use it for Capital Projects. For Fiscal Year 2016/17 we have operational revenues over expenditures of $1,285,322 or 10.5%. This is not a revenue alternative issue for the Town. It is purely an equity issue for our residents. We are simply asking the questions and want to have the conversation.

The Parcel Tax is used for capital infrastructure. Residents contribute $1.8m per year to the Town via the Tax and the Town uses the bulk of it (80%) for streets, roads, and drainage each year.

Police Department Salaries

Atherton Police Officers are not paid the highest. Annually, the Town compares police agency salaries/benefits to surrounding agencies - San Mateo County, Brisbane, Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Hillsborough, San Bruno, Belmont, Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Los Altos. Atherton Police Officers are paid at below average levels. Of these 10 agencies, 8 are paying their officers higher than Atherton. For Atherton Sergeants, of these 10 agencies, 7 are paying their Sergeants higher than Atherton. For Atherton Dispatchers, of these 10 agencies, 8 are paying their dispatchers higher than Atherton. It is hoped that through currently ongoing labor negotiations, we can at least bring our staff up to the average for agencies that are the Town’s competition for recruitment and retention.

Using Fire Tax Revenue for the Civic Center

The Town asked the District if they would be interested in contributing to the Town’s Emergency Operations Center in its new facility or if they would be interested in creating a shared space for staging of an emergency medical response vehicle in the Civic Center. The District advised they were not interested and asked the Town if they were asking the same of the Mosquito Abatement District and local schools. The District then asserted that the Town could not use the fire funds because they were taxes and the ballot measure prevent such. The Town advised that if the Town were to receive a grant of funds from an outside entity, this did not violate the ballot measure since it takes the form of grants. Most all grants from any agency - federal, state, local, county, etc. are all derived at their base from taxes of some sort so the assertion is baseless and argumentative..

Further, if the Town were to detach (a multi-year process - long after the Civic Center completes) the Town would likely not be allowed use fire tax funds for Town basic capital infrastructure - similar to using library tax funds - these funds can only be used on library services/infrastructure. The Town’s Civic Center Project will get accomplished whether the Town is a member of the Fire District or whether the District addresses the taxing issue or not. The motivation for this issue is not the Town’s Civic Center.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District has "budgeted" $3,556,000 for Capital Improvements in FY 2017/18 ALL of which is funded by carefully accumulated reserves.


In contrast, the Town of Atherton has "budgeted" $20,589,000 for the Civic Center in FY 2017/18 but has funded ZERO for that project.

That is why the Town has hired Willie Sutton......


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


Reviewing my Atherton property tax bill I note that significant amounts go to the Menlo Park Elementary School District(more than goes to the Fire District), the Sequoia High School District , the San Mateo Jr College District and the hospital-less Sequoia Hospital District.

In my experience very few Atherton property owners use or derive any benefit from these taxing entities.

Is The Town Council planning on reviewing these taxes as an "equity issue for our residents"? I suspect not. Why? Because they don't have any money and Willie Sutton told them that going after these agencies would be a waste of time.


4 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 3, 2016 at 7:57 pm


I would like to humbly suggest that the Atherton town manager read Government Code Sec. 56815 on LAFCO reorg revenue neutrality. The entire point of this section of the code is to deter those who might try to reorg primarily to their own financial benefit.

Here's a link:
Web Link.

Atherton can possibly detach from the fire district, but the only revenue that can go with that detachment is the amount currently expended by the current agency providing services. So to the extent that Atherton argues that they aren't getting their fair share, the more they dictate and actually define the limits that will be placed on the revenue transferred out of the district with that detachment.

In other words, please feel free to go if you must, but just remember to leave your wallet at the door on the way out.

If you want a more readable explanation I refer you to the chapter on revenue neutrality in this document from the Governor's Office of Planning:

Web Link

Also, here's a good citizen's guide to LAFCO reorg that also discusses the revenue neutrality requirement.

Web Link







6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him."

Napoleon


5 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 3, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Hmmm, well, I may have gotten ahead of myself. It looks like I have to acknowledge that the legal protections on revenue neutrality may not include reorg through detachment and subsequent attachments vs the restrictions applied to true incorporations.


3 people like this
Posted by Ridiculous
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Barbara Wood, why are you posting for George Rodericks? Can't he make that post himself?

The answer is yes, he can, but then he might be asked questions here he doesn't want to answer and doesn't want to make it obvious he's not responding.

Barbara Wood/George Rodericks: the Atherton police aren't paid the highest? That's funny. At the last contract adjustment two years ago, they were. Then I guess all the neighboring cities ratcheted up to meet/exceed that pay, and now Atherton will do the same. What a fun game, it's called driving California bankrupt.


57 people like this
Posted by Economies-of-scale?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 3, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Investigating the cost effectiveness of government agencies seems pretty prudent in my opinion... especially for $35k-50k. That's a drop in the bucket considering the numbers involved.

Mr. Carpenter has repeatedly pointed out the economies-of-scale that consolidation can provide. If that is true...and it should be true...then the study should confirm it.

If it does, then the residents of Atherton will stay with the fire district. If it does not...well...then the fire district will have some 'splaining to do.

The fire district shouldn't have anything to worry about if it is as financially well run as it claims.


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2016 at 7:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Investigating the cost effectiveness of government agencies seems pretty prudent in my opinion... especially for $35k-50k"

Absolutely but there is zero value in investigating economies of scale if you only look at the smallest/lowest level of aggregation.

As the Fire District has long urged what should be looked at in area/County wide aggregation of all fire, emergency medical and ambulance services ( San Mateo County fire agencies are currently prohibited from providing ambulance services!). Orange County Fire Authority and SacMetro are great examples of the huge economies of scale from fire consolidation.

The Orange County Fire Authority serves the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Newport Beach, Orange, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster, Buena Park, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster.

Sac Metro Fire serves a population of over 727,000 in a 417 square mile service area. Metro Fire is the 7th largest fire agency in the State of California.

Sac Metro Fire is a combination of 16 smaller fire departments that, over the years, merged to create this California Special District. The last merger was in December 2000 when American River Fire Department and Sacramento County Fire Protection District merged to form the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, pursuant to Government Code Section 56839. As a special district, Metro Fire is governed by a Board of Directors; each member is elected by the voters within a geographical area, or division, of Metro Fire's operational area.

What Atherton should do is contribute its $50k study fund to LAFCO so that LAFCO can do a County-wide Municipal Services Review (MSR) of all fire and ambulance services and thereby lay the basis for a huge consolidation. Just getting rid of 12 Fire Chiefs and a number of Fire Boards would save millions of dollars.

And Yes I am an elected official who would love to see my job abolished.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

To show how powerful the economies of scale are for fire/EMS here are the costs per resident for the three fire agencies that I have discussed:

MPFPD 90,000 $45,065,300 = $500 per resident
Sac Metro 730,000 $187,000,000 = $256 per resident
Orange Fire 1,775,000 $325,051,030 = $183 per resident

Clearly there are huge economies of scale and both Sac Metro and OCFA have capabilities that a smaller district like MPFPD cannot justify such as specialized Hazmat trucks.

Extrapolating down the population/cost curve a fire agency serving 7,000 people would cost well in excess of $1000 per resident.


4 people like this
Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 4, 2016 at 1:08 pm

If the population of the Town of Atherton includes babies, toddlers and minors, the "adult" population may be half of the 7,000, or 3,500.00 persons, living in the approx. 2,600 homes. If that is the case, would it be fair to say the amount may double to $2,000 per adult resident to provide fire/ems services?

I would think that the Town may be putting the "cart before the horse", as moving ahead with a decision to hire a high priced consultant BEFORE asking the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) for their take on the matter ahead of time would be skipping an important step. At a minimum, they could outline more fully the services provided, which may be far more extensive that is commonly known.

Last, if the Town is trying to save money by looking at outside services (fire, school, vector, SWAT Team, etc.) provided by others, you may at the same time find it useful to see if other in-house services could be done more affordabally by out sourcing them (using, perhaps the San Carlos model).

Someone mentioned the option of police personnel being trained as fire fighters. At one time, the city of Sunnyvale was doing this. How well did that work out for them? In this regard, as an interim fire chief, the Palo Alto Police Chief, doubled as chief of both departments. Feedback from Palo Alto may be useful.

If the service calls are minimal in Atherton, perhaps considering an all volunteer fire service could save the cost of salaries, the line item that is likely the highest one in the budget. Afterall, that model works nearly 100 years ago, when the Fire District began in 1916.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I would think that the Town may be putting the "cart before the horse", as moving ahead with a decision to hire a high priced consultant BEFORE asking the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) for their take on the matter ahead of time.."

The Mayor of Atherton has not reached out to the President of the Fire Board on this issue.

The Atherton Town Councilman who is their Liaison to the Fire Board has not reached out to either the Fire Board or to the Fire Board Director (me) who is the Board's liaison to the Town.

The Fire Bord's request for a Joint Meeting with the Atherton Town Council was denied by the Town Council.

The Fire Board has not been notified by the Town Council of their planned study session.


2 people like this
Posted by Roy
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 4, 2016 at 6:05 pm

For those unfamiliar with special districts, here is some background ... courtesy of John Oliver ...

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Thanks Roy - great entertainment from a fellow Special District Board Member:

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 5, 2016 at 8:00 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Some useful facts - all of which were provided long ago to the Town of Atherton:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2016 at 7:35 am

The San Mateo County fire automatic aid model, which was put into practice years ago, eliminated boundary drops. This means that the closest engine responds to fire and EMS calls. If Atherton wants to go its own direction and support a stand alone fire agency, unless they plan to buy several engines, a truck, and battalion chief's vehicle, the Town won't be able to support a first alarm assignment. This means that it will have to rely on its neighbors for assistance -- Menlo Fire, Redwood City and Woodside. Or if Atherton's engine is out on another call, it will, again, have to rely on its neighbors for assistance.

If there isn't a balance of give and take for assistance between neighbors, then.....

Perhaps, all this ruckus really isn't about the FD but rather an internal issue and the FD was an easy target.


14 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 7:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is just this strange new Island Of Atherton mentality that seems to have been embraced by the Mayor and the Town Mamager.

The Island of Atherton belief is that Atherton is a totally self sustainable community and it needs noting from its neighbors or other levels of governemet.

The Island of Atherton belief has gotten so strong that the Town Manager and the Mayor now wants the Fire District to take services and money away from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto in order to give the Town of Atherton a rebate. This is Robin Hood in reverse.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2016 at 8:11 am

To build off of Peter's comment of the Island of Atherton and my last comment, if one compares the Town's borders with the response area of Engine 3, the only fire station in the Town, one will see that Atherton receives coverage from Engines 1, 4, 5 and 6 as well as Truck 1 and the Battalion Chief.

I think the Town actually benefits more that it realizes.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 10:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just imagine what might be next on the Island of Atherton Leadership Team's Agenda:

1- Demand "its tax share" from the elementary school districts because Atherton residents pay very large taxes for these schools but very few Atherton children actually go to these schools.

2 - Demand "its tax share" from the high school district because Atherton residents pay a very large amount of taxes for these schools but very few Atherton children actually go to these schools.

3 - Demand "its tax share" from the San Mateo Jr College District because Atherton residents a very large amount of taxes for these schools but very few Atherton children actually go to these schools.

4 - Demand "its tax share" from the Sequoia Hospital District because Atherton residents pay a very large amount of taxes for this hospital but no Athertonians use this non-existent hospital.

5 - Demand "its tax share" from the CalTrans because Atherton residents pay a very large amount of taxes for State highways but very few Athertonians actually use these highways.

And then National Parks, National Defense, Centers for Disease Control etc., etc., etc.


4 people like this
Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2016 at 10:32 am

Given the information provided by this thread of ongoing emails and postings, it would seem prudent for the Town Manager and Town Mayor to WITHDRAW this agenda item from this Wednesday's (tomorrow) City Council agenda. Had they taken time to discuss the matter FIRST with their counterparts with the Fire District, that is the Fire Chief, the Fire District Board President and/or Staff, this entire topic may have been avoided. Spending up to $50,000 on an outside consultant's report to learn that this thoughtful group of citizens have provided on this topic would be a poor use of taxpayers hard earned dollars, that may be better served and go much further in their benefit to its citizens on a host of more urgent matters.


21 people like this
Posted by Economies-of-scale?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 11:59 am

Bob wrote:
"I think the Town actually benefits more that it realizes."

Then a study should easily confirm that.

I've found the reaction to the proposed study pretty remarkable. The tone is highly defensive. The study is an analysis of the cost/benefit of Menlo Fire for Atherton residents. In my opinion, every town/city should conduct this type of analysis from time-to-time of all special districts and other services provided to/for a town or its residents.

Menlo Fire is not above scrutiny. If the economies of scale are working as Menlo Fire states, then an Atherton split would be a poor financial and safety move for the town and a study would confirm that. If having a separate fire dept is more cost/safety effective, then it's entirely reasonable for the town to propose that option to residents.

There is no downside to a study.


Peter Carpenter wrote:
"the Town Manager and the Mayor now wants the Fire District to take services and money away from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto in order to give the Town of Atherton a rebate."

Do you have any numbers to support your assertion that Atherton is attempting to get Fire services at a lower apples-to-apples cost than Menlo Park and EPA?


"there is zero value in investigating economies of scale if you only look at the smallest/lowest level of aggregation"

1: it's pretty easy to infer from this statement and the previously cited one that you suspect an objective study of the financials may prove that Atherton could replace Menlo Fire at a lower cost. I have a hard time believing you'd be so stridently opposed to a study if the study proved you were right.

2: I agree that the net aggregate financial impact of consolidation is an important measure of the effectiveness of consolidation. But, smaller agencies/communities are usually the biggest beneficiaries of economies of scale for all the reasons you've previously cited: the elimination of duplicate staffing. So if a study were to show that replacing Menlo Fire was more financially viable than keeping Menlo Fire...that would be pretty shocking, and a strong indicator that the relationship between Atherton residents and Menlo Fire needs further review and change.


My first reaction to this article was that a potential split from Menlo Fire was a bad idea. But given the strong online pushback to even a study...I think the town council and staff are doing the right thing.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"If the economies of scale are working as Menlo Fire states, then an Atherton split would be a poor financial and safety move for the town and a study would confirm that. If having a separate fire dept is more cost/safety effective, then it's entirely reasonable for the town to propose that option to residents.

There is no downside to a study."

The only down side is doing the wrong study.

As noted above there are significant benefits of consolidation into larger and larger fire agencies. What Atherton is proposing to study only the very lowest end of the efficencies of scale and it is only looking at a small piece of a single fire agency.

A really valid study would focus on area wide consolidation.

And as I have repeatedly stated I FULLY support such a study and such consolidations.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Jim Lewis's comment that the item should be pulled from the agenda considering that the Town hasn't even contacted the FD yet makes sense.

While studies have their place, doesn't it seem prudent for the Town and FD to have a discussion, but if, in fact, the Town has failed to connect with the FD, that doesn't bode well for Atherton.


2 people like this
Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Has the Town ever considered merging with Menlo Park? In that way, the Fire District issue would become mute. Afterall, the roots of the two towns were joined at the beginning, helping to build roads and a future for the community. While we are at it, perhaps a study could be conducted looking into this opportunity. In this way, vast Sales Tax and Hotel Tax revenues would become available, and potentially a host of other benefits (parks, recreation programs, the arts, various efficiencies, not to mention the potential of NO LONGER needing to build a new Town Center and Police Station potentially saving millions of dollars. San Francisco and Palo Alto both provide electric and gas (PG&E) services; perhaps Atherton should consider this "enterprises" as well - as a potential profit center (vs. the parcel tax).


43 people like this
Posted by Economies-of-scale?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm

"In that way, the Fire District issue would become mute."

Disclaimer: amateur sociologist observation below. :)

What's hidden in this statement is the assumption that there is a direct relationship between "City of Menlo Park" the city and "Menlo Park Fire Protection District" the fire department. There is not. "Menlo Park" is just a label, and its usage only moderately correlates to the city proper in many cases:

"Menlo Park City" School district: this is a geographically distinct agency with borders that loosely correlate with Menlo Park but include sections of USMC and Atherton, and there are parts of Menlo Park not a part of MPCSD.

"Menlo Park" Fire Protection District: this is a geographically distinct agency with borders that loosely correlate with Menlo Park but include Atherton, EPA and sections of USMC.

Postal service: this is a geographically distinct agency with service boundaries that use nearby town names and zip codes as part of servicing unincorporated areas. There are Atherton and Menlo Park mailing addresses for homes and businesses not in Atherton or Menlo Park.

I think the usage of the label "Menlo Park" confuses people; it implies that these entities are owned or are a part of the City of Menlo Park, which is definitely not the case in many circumstances.


"Menlo-Atherton Elementary School District"(MAESD) has a nice ring to it (expecially if they changed the boundaries so that was entirely the case :) ).

"South San Mateo County Fire District"(SSMCFD) has a nice ring to it :)


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Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Roberto is a registered user.

23 Comments by one 'poster' on just this subject. Who is that poster, none other than a Board Director of Menlo Park Fire Web Link
Many statements by Peter contain valid points, but each should have had the appendix "As a Board Member"
It was the 23 entries that got me - meaning - oops, someones paycheck is in jeopardy....


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Roberto - I do not receive a single penny from the Fire District and I would love to see my job abolished by the creation of a consolidated fire agency.


5 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 4:15 pm

The town council sounds like they are still in the early investigation phase. If the town manager or town's fire board representative officially approaches the fire board with questions, the council would have to have a consensus first. There would need to be at least one council meeting to reach such a consensus. As everyone surely knows, if such a consensus occurred outside an open, public meeting, that would be a violation of the Brown Act. :-) Hence, the reason to put this item on the meeting agenda.

If the town manager or council member reaches out to the fire board on their own, they would be only doing so as a private citizen, not representing Atherton. That's my guess why no formal outreach has occurred yet.

For those who are interested in providing input on this topic, the Atherton town council meeting is open to the public.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" If the town manager or town's fire board representative officially approaches the fire board with questions, the council would have to have a consensus first."

Wrong. Such discussions can and should take place all the time. The Brown Act prohibits the creation of Council agenda in private but does NOT prohibit "questions" between local agencies.

"If the town manager or council member reaches out to the fire board on their own, they would be only doing so as a private citizen, not representing Atherton."

Wrong. The Fire Chief and the Town Manager meet and confer on a regular basis - as the should.
The Council Liaison to the Fire Board and the Fire Board Liaison to the Town Council can discuss anything they want without violating the Brown Act.

****
As stated above:
The Mayor of Atherton has not reached out to the President of the Fire Board on this issue.

The Atherton Town Councilman who is their Liaison to the Fire Board has not reached out to either the Fire Board or to the Fire Board Director (me) who is the Board's liaison to the Town.

The Fire Bord's request for a Joint Meeting with the Atherton Town Council was denied by the Town Council.

The Fire Board has not been notified by the Town Council of their planned study session.


6 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 6, 2016 at 5:43 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@ Roberto: Peter Carpenter has been very open about his position with the Fire Board. You must be new in the area not t know this. I don't think any of the elected officials are worried about their pay checks. What are you worried about? No big scandal is here. Pay attention, you might learn something.


5 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 6:59 pm

You're right that individual Atherton council members don't need a consensus to reach out. On sensitive subjects, however, this is a good practice. It's clear there are strong opinions on this matter. And prematurely starting a conversation before board members are in some broad agreement on a direction to investigate or even what questions to ask is not a good idea.

Astute town managers won't reach out externally on sensitive matters until having council authorization.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 7:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Apple - What you have so succinctly described is an elected body and their appointed chief executive engaging in a discussion on a subject about which they know practically nothing and without the input of those who are well informed.

Experts on California taxation would inform them that the Atherton Town Council cannot change the current property tax allocations among agencies.

Those same experts on California taxation would inform the Council that the current property tax allocation among agencies was decided by the voters on the basis of providing uniformity and stability and without regard to the costs of providing any specific service or the perceived "equity" of the allocations.

Experts on local agency formation would inform them that the chances of a successful detachment from the Fire District, which would almost certainly include an election by the impacted residents, has no chance of success. (Those Atherton residents voted 80% in favor of increasing the Fire District's Gann Property Tax limit.)

The Fire Board and Fire Chief would inform them that there is zero chance that the Fire District will take funds away from the Fire District's property tax revenues coming from East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton property owners in order to make a "grant" to the Town of Atherton.

The Fire Board and Fire Chief would inform them that there is zero chance that the Fire District would reduce the Fire District's services levels to East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton residents in order to give a "rebate" to the Town of Atherton.

I would be deeply embarrassed to be an elected official who made a decision to expend $30-50k of public funds for a study on this subject without FIRST getting the above inputs.


37 people like this
Posted by Economies-of-scale?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 8:24 pm

"an elected body and their appointed chief executive engaging in a discussion on a subject about which they know practically nothing"

Ummmm...that's typically the point of a study. A study is meant to address deficiencies in understanding on a particular subject.

That's why it's called "study" :)

You are inadvertently making the case for a study.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Not at all - if you don't know what it is that you are spending $30-50k on to study then start over to take the time to properly define the PURPOSE of the study.

The established facts already show that the amount of property taxes paid by Atherton residents to the Fire District is greater than the Fire District's cost of providing those services to Atherton residents. The exact figures may be in dispute but not the general result.

The issue is - what can the Atherton Town Council do about this? And the answer is NOTHING.

So please tell me exactly what do they want to spend $30-50k for?

What is the PURPOSE of the study??


29 people like this
Posted by Economies-of-scale?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2016 at 8:59 pm

>> You are inadvertently making the case for a study.
> Not at all - if you don't know what it is that you are spending $30-50k

I think it's pretty clear from Barbara's post that the town does known what they're spending $35-50k on.


> The exact figures may be in dispute

Ummmm...that's a pretty good reason for a study right there.


> The issue is - what can the Atherton Town Council do about this? And the answer is NOTHING.

It appears that town staff and council do not agree with you, or at least suspect they have more options than you believe. Yet another good reason for a study.


I appreciate and respect your passion for the fire district (and you'll get my vote again if you decide to run again), but I think you're just a tad too close to the matter to be objective.


17 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2016 at 6:36 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Turns out that FWIW is exactly right:

"Atherton can possibly detach from the fire district, but the only revenue that can go with that detachment is the amount currently expended by the current agency providing services. So to the extent that Atherton argues that they aren't getting their fair share, the more they dictate and actually define the limits that will be placed on the revenue transferred out of the district with that detachment."

So Atherton pays $50k for a study which then defines EXACTLY how much the Fire District expends in serving Atherton.

Then Atherton proceeds with the detachment process - at considerable expense to the Town and with a significant impact on the relationship with the Fire District.

The detachment process will inevitable require a vote by the impacted residents - at considerable additional expense to the Town.

IF the residents support detachment (highly unlikely since detachment will not reduce their tax bill by a single penny) then the County Board of Supervisors negotiate a tax revenue transfer SUBJECT TO the fact that the Town may NOT receive a penny more as a result of the detachment than its own study has shown the Fire District was currently spending to serve Atherton residents. All excess property taxes that would have gone to the Fire District are then distributed to all the other taxing entities in the geographical area designated in the detachment.

End results of this very unlikely scenario:
1 - Town spends money on study
2 - Town spends money on detachment process including cost of election
3 - Town gets exactly what the Fire District currently spends in the Town
4 - Fire District closes Station 3
5 - Town must then provide or find someone to provide fire services for that amount of money
6 - Residents property taxes are UNCHANGED
7 - Fire District's level of service to East Palo Alto and Menlo Park is reduced due to the loss of revenue
8 - Fire District has zero incentive to cooperate with the Town

Alternatively the Town can insist that the Fire District give it a "rebate" OR ELSE. But there is no OR ELSE.

Alternatively the Town can table the whole idea and go back to what it should have been doing all along - serving the needs of the residents in cooperation with one of the best fire districts in the Nation.


7 people like this
Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 7, 2016 at 7:48 am

My hunch is that if the Staff Report is approved by the Town Council, there may be a referendum to reverse the decision. This is one of those topics where the staff is out of touch with the sentiments of the people. One of the blessings of this country is the process of governance. When appropriate, from Patrick Henry days to modern days, the people will step forward and do the right thing. We've seen several contemporary examples of that in recent months, from voters in England to voters in the US. This issue appears to have hit a nerve, prompting 70+ comments on an important topic.


2 people like this
Posted by disgusted
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 7, 2016 at 9:16 am

Peter Carpenter always holds out the Fire District as some kind of exemplar of good management, when it is well known by anyone who has actually looked at the data that the Fire District is significantly over-funded thanks to the rigid formulas post Prop 13 for how our property taxes are allocated out to the various public agencies in our county. THIS IS WHY THE TOWN OF ATHERTON IS RIGHTLY LOOKING AT PULLING OUT OF THE FIRE DISTRICT. Peter loves to drape himself in the righteous cloth of fiscal responsibility when attacking everyone else in our community, but he is certainly showing his true self-interested colors now that the ridiculous overspending of the Fire District is finally seeing the light of day.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2016 at 9:18 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Disgusted - Here are the facts:

Web Link

Now where exactly is your alleged "ridiculous overspending"?


1 person likes this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 7, 2016 at 9:54 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Peter,

If you substitute "the residents of Atherton" for the "Atherton Council" most of what the City Manager said is true. or more directly "the VOTING residents of Atherton" do have the right to get their services from anywhere/anyone they chose.

While it is probably not optimal, they should look at how/where/who those services are provided.Just as they did with Police Service (and IMHO chose the wrong path - at least on a fiscal basis)

This is a great opportunity for MAFPD to look at cost/benefit analysis on their services in the areas they serve.

Roy


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2016 at 9:58 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"the VOTING residents of Atherton" do have the right to get their services from anywhere/anyone they chose."

Exactly as I posted days ago:

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 3:23 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"And I do want to believe that if Atherton residents choose to go to LAFCO with a better solution for fire services than what MPFD offers, they will be allowed to go there."

If the RESIDENTS go to LAFCO then Absolutely they would be allowed!!

But the Town Council is only five residents and the Council has no standing on this issue - the Town cannot withdraw from something that it never was part of.

And I seriously doubt the Atherton residents would vote to "detach" from the Fire District simply because there is no way that those residents could get the same level and quality of service that they currently receive anywhere else - except from a much larger consolidation of fire agencies. My opinion is a testable hypothesis.


Like this comment
Posted by An Observer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 7, 2016 at 10:04 am

Roy, why limit the discussion to the Fire services provided to the Town? Perhaps the citizens and/or members of the Town Council should also look at potential cost savings of providing their own Sanitary Sewer service, instead of using the services of an outside Special District, the West Bay Sanitary District (WBSD). For instance, driving by and looking at the Administrative Offices the Town of Atherton has been working out of for years compared to the Administrative Offices the Sanitary District has been working out of, prompts one to consider the potential cost savings of doing it in-house vs. out-house.


2 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2016 at 11:29 am

@Observer
WBSD has a flat charge per dwelling unit. They do not base their charges using property values. Their services are fairly equal for each customer. It is straightforward and appears equitable.

In any case, Atherton withdrawing from MPFD seems very remote at this time according to Barbara's post. Certainly, there's a lot of speculation in this discussion. Any interested parties can make public comments and ask questions at the Atherton town council meeting today. I'm sure the process and the town's thinking will be made clearer at that time.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 7, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the kind of policy that all local agencies should support:

RESOLUTION OF THE MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT BOARD REQUESTING THAT THE SAN MATEO COUNTY LOCAL AGENCY FORMATION COMMISSION (LAFCo) PERFORM A COUNTY-WIDE MUNICIPAL SERVICE REVIEW OF FIRE AGENCIES WITHIN SAN MATEO COUNTY

WHEREAS, the District believes that consolidation of fire and emergency medical services agencies allows for the greatest opportunity to provide efficient and quality life-saving services; and

WHEREAS, any action resulting in fragmentation of fire and emergency medical services agencies within the County of San Mateo would result in increased costs and a decrease in the quality of services; and

WHEREAS, fire districts, including the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, provide a myriad of services to the community in addition to basic fire and emergency services, including but not limited to, disaster preparedness, public education, code promulgation, and inspections; and

WHEREAS, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has been a long time leader in the consolidation of fire dispatch services and has successfully and significantly reduced response times in recent years; and

WHEREAS , consolidation of services allows for economies of scale, permitting exemplary levels of cost-efficient service; and

WHEREAS, any attempt to replicate this level of services in individual San Mateo County municipalities would be imprudent and ineffective, as such effort could not facilitate economies of scale, resulting and in higher costs and inefficiencies; and

WHEREAS, special districts, including the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, have the unique distinction and capability of being well managed and economically healthy, primarily due to not being subservient to municipal government.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Board of Directors of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District hereby direct that correspondence be transmitted by the Fire Chief, on behalf of the District, to the San Mateo LAFCo, requesting that the San Mateo LAFCo perform a county-wide municipal service review to evaluate fire agencies within San Mateo County.

I HEREBY CERTIFY that this resolution was duly introduced and adopted at the Special Meeting of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District on the 8th day of September, 2016, by the following vote:


2 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardi�a
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardi�a is a registered user.

@an observer.

several cities have actually done that. We recently took over the sewer service for Los Altos Hills and the Town of Woodside. West Bay Sanitary District is the performance leader in cost per mile of pipe.

Of course all we do is move the sewage. Silicon Valley Clean Water (SVCW) actually treats it. Their costs represent nearly 80% of your sewage fees.

Not sure who Atherton could contract with to maintain the pipe though, as I stated earlier we are pretty good at it.

Let me know how we can help in that evaluation.

Your snarky comments about our headquarters noted......thanks for the constructive thoughts. Perhaps you would like to visit us during one of our meetings on Wednesday nights to discuss the budget and see what we actually do. we'd love to have you join us.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 8, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From: "Carpenter, Peter"
Subject: Information that seems not to have been given to the Town Council
Date: September 8, 2016 at 1:36:32 PM PDT

Dear Atherton Town Council,

In reviewing the record of your meeting yesterday it appears that a great deal of information which had been previously provided to the Town Manager and the Council Liaison to the Fire Board somehow did not reach the entire Council.

I include that information here:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


These four document provide all the information that is needed to answer your two questions -
1- How much revenue does the Fire District receive from Atherton property owners and
2 -Given the Fire District’s policy of providing exactly the same level of service to every resident of the Fire District how much of the Fire District’s budget is “spent” delivering services to the residents of Atherton which is about 8% of the total District population.

In my opinion there is no need for the Town to hire a consultant to find this information for you.

I have no idea why these documents have been withheld from you but please let me know if you require additional information and I will provide it directly to you to ensure that it is not lost enroute.

Peter


2 people like this
Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 8, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Peter, is today's posting being provided in your capacity as 1) an individual or 2) as a member of the Board? For clarification, it may be helpful to provide this disclaimer with each posting. Otherwise, thank you for taking time to provide the information you do. As transparency is essential with the process of governance, the time you take to share objective, factual and current information is much appreciated.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 8, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

My email to the Atherton Town Council was sent from my Fire District email account and in my capacity as the Fire Board's liaison to the Town Council.

All of my other postings on this Forum have been made as an individual.

Thank you for asking me to clarify this matter.


2 people like this
Posted by Problem Solver
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 14, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Citizens come to expect that elected officials will act in a professional way in their fiduciary capacity in representing the community. Make us proud is an expectation that allows faith in the system. That has NOT been the case with this particular issue. Mud slugging, name calling and child like bickering have been the rule, not the exception. Emotions are flying high. Even trust has been brought up.

Instead, level headed discussions between officials need to occur. Perhaps the Town Manager can speak with the Fire Chief. Perhaps the Town Mayor can have a civil conversation with the Fire District President. Even better, a joint meeting may break the anger, hostility and mistrust that seems to be the undercurrent driving the process.

I'd like to see the Town Finance Director meet with the Fire District Finance Manager or perhaps, better yet, a joint meeting between the two Finance Committees. Folks, if we have learned anything from the conflicts between Northern and Southern Ireland, or similar conflicts, DIPLOMACY gets you further, than threats of high priced Consultant's Reports.

Lawyers and judges advise to exhaust your ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES first. In this case, it may mean sitting down, face to face, and working things out.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire Chief meets regularly with the Town Manager.

The Fire Board Liaison to the Atherton Town Council talks the Atherton Town Council's Liaison to the Fire Board monthly at Fire Board meetings.

The Fire Board Liaison to the Atherton Town Council has provided detailed information to the Town Council including information that was provided to the Town Manager but which evidently was not then provided by the Town Manager to the Town Council.

The Town Council agendized this topic without prior discussion with the Fire Board.

The Town Council agendized the item without including the opportunity for the Fire District to participate in their discussion.

The Town Council did not invite the Fire Board to participate in their meeting.

As of 30 minutes ago the Fire Chief confirmed that the Fire District has not received any specific questions from the Town that they would like answered.

I have received no response to my email of 8 Sept asking each Town Council member if they wanted additional information.

So there has been lots of communication from the Fire District to the Town but very little communication from the Town to the Fire District.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 14, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that the Fire Chief sent this request to the Town Manager on 6 Sept (see entire letter in link above) to table or postpone the Council's discussion of this issue:

"George
Rodericks
Town Manager
Atherton
September 6, 2016
I would strongly suggest that the Fiscal Evaluation of Fire Services item coming before the Atherton Town Council on September 7, 2016 at 3 pm, be
tabled or postponed based upon the following important factors..."

If you watch the tape of the Council meeting the Town Manager failed to share this vital communication with the Town Council. Amazing.

Yes, there is a lack of communication but not communication between the Fire District TO the Town but WITHIN the Town government.


7 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 15, 2016 at 3:50 pm

I've been busy but have been wanting to better understand the LAFCo process. Above in the stream of 89 comments I equivocated while trying to myself understand the question of revenue neutrality as applied to the LAFCo reorganization process.

The code is really clear that in the case of a LAFCo action to incorporate a previously unincorporated area that the revenue impacts of the affected agencies must be neutral. That is to say that the agency serving the unincorporated area gives up responsibility for a territory and in return has their revenue diminished by only the direct costs of actually servicing that territory. The code makes is explicit that the legislature's purpose is explicitly to avoid reorganization for financial benefit, which also happens to explicitly be the ONLY reason that Atherton has contemplated reorganization.

That CA GOV code is thusly described:

56815.
  (a) It is the intent of the Legislature that any proposal that includes an incorporation should result in a similar exchange of both revenue and responsibility for service delivery among the county, the proposed city, and other subject agencies. It is the further intent of the Legislature that an incorporation should not occur primarily for financial reasons.

(b) The commission shall not approve a proposal that includes an incorporation unless it finds that the following two quantities are substantially equal:

(1) Revenues currently received by the local agency transferring the affected territory that, but for the operation of this section, would accrue to the local agency receiving the affected territory.

(2) Expenditures, including direct and indirect expenditures, currently made by the local agency transferring the affected territory for those services that will be assumed by the local agency receiving the affected territory.
-----

But CA Gov 56815 at first glance would appear to not directly apply to the Atherton situation because their LAFCo action would not be an incorporation but rather a combination of detachment and attachment which is referred to as a "special reorganization".

But wait. Let's take a look at the codes for LAFCo special reorganizations:

56730.
  Proceedings for a special reorganization shall be conducted in accordance with the procedures otherwise prescribed for incorporation of a city, including, but not limited to, the provisions specified in Sections 56720, 56800, 56810, and 56815.
--------

So, indeed a special reorganization is indeed to follow the "procedures otherwise prescribed for incorporation of a city including ... 56815".

My reading of this text would leave me to believe that "revenue neutrality" are the watch words of the day. I am not a lawyer, but to my unpracticed eye there does not appear to be another interpretation that if the fire district gives up the Atherton service area that it only gives up the revenue that is sufficient to have serviced that area.

But I have to humbly admit that I am unschooled in this area, merely very curious. Anybody that is professional care to comment?


11 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2016 at 7:49 pm

You seem to be reading the government code from the wrong perspective. The intention of this part of the law is to prevent the DISTRICT from detaching an area. For example, these sections would prevent MPFD from abandoning unincorporated Fair Oaks or the City of East Palo Alto because the cost of providing fire service far exceeds the revenue they provide to MPFD.

We disagree that the ONLY reason for detaching Atherton from MPFD is purely financial. Even if detachment were ever seriously considered, the case has already been made by the MPFD's Chief and the District's board. In areas outside of Atherton, MPFD is budgeting and expanding service based on increased development and density. In these areas, MPFD is expanding and rebuilding fire stations and purchasing new equipment based on the volume of calls and projected response times. Yet, in Atherton the cost of the fire service according to the MPFD Chief is based on capitation. Capitation (literally, "counting heads") might be an appropriate model for running a fire service in a medium sized Central American city, but has no place in running an accredited, rated fire agency in the United States.

The cost of fire service consists of two parts: a fixed cost and a variable cost. The fixed cost is determined by minimum staffing levels, equipment and property. The variable cost involves the incremental price of answering different types of calls. Atherton's Town manager asked MPFD for the cost of fire service. MPFD must have information about the volume of MPFD's calls and their type (single engine medical, technical or heavy rescue or fire response). MPFD uses this information to invest in other MPFD areas. But, MPFD says the data doesn't exist for Atherton. So, if MPFD is running two different methods of accounting inside and outside of Atherton, the case for detachment can be readily identified.

Finally, consider that MPFD has a focus on a world class Urban Search and Rescue program, as well as a terrific water rescue program. While great area fire resources, semi-rural, land locked Atherton likely needs a fire service more like Woodside than MPFD. Again, this is exactly the inquiry that Atherton's manager is trying to make. Based on the curious responses from the MPFD Chief and Board, these are excellent questions that need to be asked.


5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 15, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

It's already clear that it would be cheaper to outsource police services. Why would anyone think it would be any different for fire services? Atherton has one internal fire station, but a couple adjacent stations that serve them. If they create their own fire department they will need to not only purchase the existing MPFPD station but likely build two more and staff them. That simple an analysis tells you Atherton won't save money breaking off from MPFPD. Save your $50,000 for your consultant. Or, better yet, send it to me.


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Posted by An Option
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 15, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Here's a novel idea. If Atherton wants financial information so bad that they are willing to spend up to $50,000 for it via a consultant, instead, how about spending less and helping the Fire District create an accounting system that would provide the info you want? If that only runs, say $10,000, you'd save up to $40,000 and get the same results. Seems like a no brainer to me.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 6:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Let's not overlook the fundamental issue here.

Special District were set up to meet the urgent needs of a community of people - in the case of the MPFPD it was set up 100 years ago to meet the urgent fire protection needs of a large group of people. Subsequently smaller groups of people formed cities, towns and other entities within the boundaries of the Fire District to meet other less urgent needs. Some of these entities, like the Fire District served community wide needs and their mission calls upon them to provide the same level of service to each of their residents/taxpayers in the entire community. Other agencies provide different "volumes" of services to each customer and those agencies, like gas, water,sewer and electricity therefore meter their services so that each user pays based on what they use.

Typically Fire, Police, streets, schools and public health are viewed as community wide services and they are delivered on a community wide, same standard of service to all customers basis. Our society has decided that the entire community is best served by having everyone receiving these services and that we will all pay for these services via property taxes. Because of prop 13 and Prop 8 property taxes are NOT uniform and some people pay far more than others. However neither the Fire District or the Town has the legal ability to alter those tax allocations.

It seems strange that the Town Manager and some of the Elected Town Council members want to abandon the community wide principal of equal service to all based on property taxes and instead try to take property tax revenues from the residents of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton to divert to the Town's own coffers. Hopefully they will understand the optics of a wealthy town trying to take community wide funds away from many other less well off members of the community.

As an elected Fire Board Member I would consider it to be immoral and illegal to take funds from the residents of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in order to give those funds to the Town of Atherton.


6 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 16, 2016 at 10:07 am

Thank you, Peter, for calmly, coherently, and patiently making the case that respects every resident member of the fire district's served community. I do not live in your district, but would be very disappointed to see precedent set which might have a similar impact on my community's own fire district.

That said, I am fairly confident that the law itself is also clearly and abundantly on your side in this regard, but do remain curious about whether the legal details could somehow obscurely be made not to apply to the town's approach. It seems crazy to me that Atherton's town council would move forward without consulting some kind of legal advice, so I'm just wondering what it really is.

If the matter ever did come in front of the SM LAFCo, my view is that they would be legally bound to reject any proposal which resulted the in the new agency receiving more revenue than is _currently_ spent serving that territory. Similarly, the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg reorganization act would obligate other agencies (such as the county itself) not to receive any "excess" revenue since they are not party the service exchange. I mean after all, there is a reason that the provision is entitled "Article 3. Revenue Neutrality". Neutral is neutral and cuts both way. If the town really thinks they can provide superior service to the fire district for the same dollars _currently_ expended, then good luck with that.

But I have to admit at the core, the part that I find most repugnant is the element of hypocrisy in those fostering the view that the town isn't getting served in proportion to its fiscal contribution. Where is the moral outrage that within the town itself that residents are paying vastly different (by orders of magnitude) different amounts for precisely the same services from every local agency to which they pay taxes. You have homes that contribute $1000/year in annual property taxes, and you have homes that contribute $500,000/year in annual property taxes. Where is there not complaint from the council that the household contributing the $500K is "overpaying" or being "underserved" by the town itself?


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 11:46 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For a detailed description of the mutli-year (certainly ill-advised and, in my opinion, illegal) effort by the Atherton Town Manager to extract Fire District property taxes paid by the residents of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton and give those funds to the Town of Atherton please read the following report:

Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 11:53 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

FWIW states"If the matter ever did come in front of the SM LAFCo, my view is that they would be legally bound to reject any proposal which resulted the in the new agency receiving more revenue than is _currently_ spent serving that territory. "

FWIW is absolutely correct.

Here is what the Executive Officer of the San Mateo LAFCO wrote and directly stated to the Atherton Town Manager BEFORE the Town Council's Sept 7th meeting:

"Delving further into the property tax negotiation, if one finds that the amount of property tax the District receives exceeds the cost of fire and emergency response service, it could be argued that the property tax exchange would not necessarily transfer all of the District’s property tax to the Town, only that portion that is required to fund service and the balance would be redistributed to the agencies that share territory with the District in Town boundaries (school districts, county, mosquito abatement, etc.)”

From the video of the 7 Sept Town Council meeting it is clear that the Town Manager did NOT share this critical input with the Town Council during their discussion on this very subject.


8 people like this
Posted by Threats
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 16, 2016 at 11:58 am

Peter, you posted earlier that George Rodericks had threatened to put you under investigation, presumably by the Atherton Police Department. That comment was deleted, I presume, by the Almanac (since we cannot edit our own posts).

If true, this is extremely troubling to me and I would like to know more about this. On the other hand, if you have made an allegation that is unsupportable, I would find this troubling as well.

Please do elaborate as in my view at least, the scandal over trying to shut someone up is always more serious than the scandal over what they have to say.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There were two persons present when the Town Manager "suggested" that I should be investigated because of my public comments on this issue. I would be pleased to provide their names to a reporter.

As both a private citizen and an elected public official I find such a "suggestion", particularly coming from someone with supervisory authority over a police agency with access to lots of investigative resources and personal information, to be an abuse of power and chilling.


4 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 16, 2016 at 3:59 pm

[Post removed from using more than one name on the same thread.]


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Confused - the threat was made against me. It makes no difference if the threat was made against me as a private citizen or me as an elected representative - either is reprehensible.


2 people like this
Posted by Are You Sure?
a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Are you sure? Publicly accusing a public official of an abuse of power asserting that they threatened to use a police agency to violate your privacy or civil rights is no small thing? Best case scenario they lose their job - worst case scenario they go to prison. Is this what you are accusing the Town Manager of doing?


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As I stated "There were two persons present when the Town Manager "suggested" that I should be investigated because of my public comments on this issue. I would be pleased to provide their names to a reporter."


4 people like this
Posted by Economies-of-scale?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 16, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Peter Carpenter wrote:
"extract Fire District property taxes paid by the residents of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton and give those funds to the Town of Atherton"

You made a similar charge like this one before (Sep 6, 2016 at 7:42 am), and I challenged you to prove it. Your silence was telling in my opinion.

I challenge you to provide numbers showing how even a single dollar of property tax paid by a resident of East Palo Alto or Menlo Park would end up in the coffers of the Town of Atherton.


I like spirited online debates, but let's try to keep the statements grounded somewhere within the vicinity of reality.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town Manager states "1) Sit down with the Fire District to discuss the findings and discuss ways to address fiscal equity issues in Atherton (property TAX REVENUE SHARING AGREEMENTS..."

The Fire District receives all most all of its revenues from property taxes. If any of the Fire District revenues are diverted to the Town of Atherton (which pays zero property taxes) then those funds must come from the property taxes paid by District revenues including property taxes paid by East Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents. In addition, such "tax revenue sharing" with the Town of Atherton would force the Fire District to reduce its services to ALL of the residents of the Fire District.

As readers well know I have never been silent in response to any question posed to me.


10 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Sep 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

I asked Mr. Rodericks about Mr. Carpenter's accusations. Mr. Rodericks says the "investigation" comment was about possible serial meeting Brown Act violations regarding emails sent to all board members (and then forwarded to the Almanac, by Mr. Carpenter) and the appropriateness of public officials posting opinions on social media. Mr. Rodericks said he has told Atherton elected officials not to post about issues that may come before them on social media, but that it would be up to the fire chief to set such guidelines for his board members.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" the appropriateness of public officials posting opinions on social media."

Excellent reporting - that an appointed official wants to muzzle an elected official's right and responsibility to participate in public debate.

Actually the Town Manager's "suggested" investigation involved a complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission which has no jurisdiction over the Brown Act.

Web Link


27 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I find it positively scary that the Town Manager has effectively muzzled the ELECTED Town Council and that he actually proposes that the Fire Chief do the same regarding the Fire Board. No wonder that there is NO public dialogue from the Town Council - they have been cowed by their appointed Town Manager.

Here is the official legal advice that I have been given:
"There is a fundamental and basic distinction between the role of an elected official in an adjudicatory or quasi-judicial proceeding ( e.g. revocation of a permit; granting of a license etc. ) where you as a decision - maker are required to fairly and independently judge the facts and the law and insure “due process” to the applicant, and those proceedings where you are acting in your legislative capacity. In the latter you can express your political point of view to your heart’s content. “If elected I will vote to repeal the Fire Code” for example. That is the very nature of the political process. Sometimes that line of control can be murky but this issue appears legislative in nature. One thing is clear…if you speak for the Board you have to fairly represent the position of the board, if you speak for yourself you are free to express your political opinion however you see it."



8 people like this
Posted by Are you sure?
a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm

@PeterCarpenter

Okay, so now you're saying that the Town Manager suggested your comments on social media could be seen as something to be investigated by the Fair Political Practices Commission not investigated by the Atherton Police Department which would be an abuse of power and illegal?

That's a significant difference and to me it seems a bit irresponsible to suggest or insinuate otherwise. It's that sort of irresponsible careless commentary that ruins the lives of innocent people. Not saying the Town Manager is innocent, but...the Fair Political Practices Commission is a long way away from a violation of your civil rights.

Put this thing to bed. Meet with the Town Council and talk it through. Get over it.


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Are you sure that you can read?

Here is exactly what I stated:

"Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
7 hours ago
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There were two persons present when the Town Manager "suggested" that I should be investigated because of my public comments on this issue. I would be pleased to provide their names to a reporter.

As both a private citizen and an elected public official I find such a "suggestion", particularly coming from someone with supervisory authority over a police agency with access to lots of investigative resources and personal information, to be an abuse of power and chilling."

Your apology for misrepresenting my statement is of course accepted.


10 people like this
Posted by Are you sure?
a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2016 at 8:09 pm

@PeterCarpenter

No, THIS is exactly what you said (now removed):

"The only threat that I am aware of is a threat by the Town Manager to "have Director Carpenter investigated" because of my outspokenness on this issue. A threat which cannot be taken lightly given the Town Manager's direct authority over the Atherton's Police Department."

That to me is an insinuation or suggestion that the Town Manager would use the resources of the Police Department to investigate you.

Then you said:

"Actually the Town Manager's "suggested" investigation involved a complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission which has no jurisdiction over the Brown Act."

Your apology for deluding the other posters is of course accepted.


17 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 17, 2016 at 5:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"That to me is an insinuation or suggestion that the Town Manager would use the resources of the Police Department to investigate you".

I am not responsible for your interpretation,insinuation or suggestion of what my statements and what such manipulation might lead you to understand and to deeive other posters.

I have chosen my words carefully


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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