The board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District meets tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 20) in a study session to consider how to respond to a proposal put forward by the Atherton City Council to hire a consultant who would look into the fair and efficient use by the fire district of its share of Atherton's property tax revenues.
The board meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the classroom behind Station 1 at 300 Middlefield Road in Menlo Park. The study session is the third item on the regular agenda.
The fire district, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, provides fire protection and other emergency response services to Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and nearby unincorporated areas.
The Atherton City Council, while expressing appreciation for the fire district's services, nevertheless "has lots of questions with regards to services and costs," as Councilman Bill Widmer put it at a Sept. 7 council meeting. "How (is) the money being spent? Is it being spent in the right manner and on the right things?" he asked.
Atherton City Manager George Rodericks said in a recent report that the fire district received $4.5 million more from Atherton's property tax revenues than the town itself received. The fire district disputes that number, countering that the difference is actually $2.5 million.
Mr. Rodericks notes in his report that, according to the county assessor's office, the fire district receives slightly less than 16 cents of every property tax dollar paid by Atherton landowners compared with slightly less than 11 cents received by the town itself.
In a staff report, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman wrote: "While population, household size, median income, parcel size, type and size of structures, property value, insured or not insured and demographics, (and) geographic area are all relevant factors, the Fire District for the most part does not study or use this data by jurisdiction to determine 'equity' values for critical emergency services delivery.
"Equity, as defined by the Fire District, is that all residents, businesses and individuals inside the Fire District receive superior emergency services when needed."
The agenda for the study session was a joint effort between officials of the fire district and the town, Mr. Schapelhouman said.
The options before the fire board, he said, include having meetings between agency executives, appointing subcommittees to work with each other, holding a joint meeting with the Atherton City Council and the fire district board, waiting until Atherton has hired its consultant, hiring a consultant to work on behalf of the fire district or jointly choosing a consultant.
Another option on the table is to essentially not change anything, and continue posting documents and other public information on the district's website.