News

Tonight: Fire board discusses Atherton council's property tax complaints

 

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.

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Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 20, 2016 at 12:32 pm

I admire the way the Fire District is going about this concern. I've looked at their website and it is very detailed, providing a wealth of information.

The Fire District's openness to discuss Atherton's concerns is impressive, particularly outlined in the Staff Report that is a part of tonight's meeting. The Staff Report is nearly 30 pages long.

The Atherton Town Council meets the very next day, on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, with this very same topic likely coming up again on their agenda in October. In preparation for that meeting, I'm hoping that the Town of Atherton will send a staff member, a council member and/or perhaps the Finance Director or Chair of their Finance and Audit Committee to the Fire District's Board of Director's meeting tonight so that their views can be heard.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 20, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire Board's meeting tonight is a Regular meeting not a Study Session.

The statement re "The agenda for the study session was a joint effort between officials of the fire district and the town" which was attributed to Chief Schapelhouman, who was not contacted regarding this news article, is incorrect.

The Staff Report for tonight's meeting was done entirely and solely by the Fire District Staff.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 20, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is exactly how the item is listed on the agenda:

11. Consider, Discuss, and Provide Direction to Staff Regarding a Request from the Town of Atherton to Discuss The Fiscal Evaluation of Fire Services

Here is the Staff Report:

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 20, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

I agree, the Fire District is a model of transparency. Nicely done

Roy Thiele-Sardina


Like this comment
Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Sep 20, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

The following passage comes from the "Background | Analysis" subhead on Page 6 of Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman's staff report for agenda item 11 of tonight's meeting:

"There are no action items on tonight’s agenda. The agenda is set as a Study Session allowing both agencies to discuss issues and provide policy feedback for follow-up by agency staff. The President of the Fire Board and Mayor of Atherton met with the executive officers of each agency to discuss the broad topics for the agenda."



2 people like this
Posted by jimlewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 20, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Regarding your statement: "The following passage comes from the "Background Analysis" subhead on Page 6 of Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman's staff report for agenda item 11 of tonight's meeting:

"There are no action items on tonight’s agenda. The agenda is set as a Study Session allowing both agencies to discuss issues and provide policy feedback for follow-up by agency staff. The President of the Fire Board and Mayor of Atherton met with the executive officers of each agency to discuss the broad topics for the agenda."

You may have taken the above statement out of context. The paragraph in the Fire District staff report on page 6 that you are referring to states:

"April 29, 2015, A Special Joint Study Session was held between the Fire Board and the Town Council to discuss items of Mutual Interest. Similar to a joint study session in 2007, the Fire Chief felt the meeting would help explain how the Fire District operated and the value of its service to the Town."

Thus the study session you are referring to occurred in year 2015. Instead, tonight's Regular Meeting is part of their regular agenda, which may result in a motion and a vote.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm

The comments that Boyce is citing were with respect to a Joint Neeting held on 29 April 2015 not to tonight's Fire Board meeting.


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

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