News

Fire board, Atherton lower the heat in funding fray

 

The Atherton City Council has made known its concerns about possible inequities between funding for town operations and funding for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, which provides firefighting and emergency response services. The fire district board has now weighed in.

After a Sept. 20 discussion of about 30 minutes on Atherton's concerns, including a claim by the city manager that the fire district gets a nickel more of each property tax dollar than the town does, the fire board agreed to the idea of officials from the two jurisdictions meeting occasionally to discuss "mutual issues and concerns," as a staff report from Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman put it.

The board discussion had none of the sparks that board member Peter Carpenter had kicked up with his online comments on the Almanac's Town Square forum, including that Atherton's City Manager George Rodericks had told the mayor that the fire district "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.'"

Mr. Rodericks attended the fire board meeting, as did Atherton Mayor Elizabeth Lewis and Atherton Councilman Cary Weist. Not present was Councilman Rick DeGolia, who described some comments by fire district officials as "extremely immature and a direct attack on the council," adding that he felt personally insulted.

"I would like to apologize to the officials in Atherton for not speaking up about this (funding issue) earlier," fire board member Chuck Bernstein said. He took pains to address possible misrepresentations in the press that the entire board had taken a position, adding that he did not share any of the sentiments represented, whether reported accurately or not. "All the cowards kind of tend to say nothing, and I was one of those, so I apologize to you," he said.

Mr. Bernstein said he saw an inquiry into efficient use of tax money as, "at heart, a worthwhile thing to do," but added that trying to get one's money's worth from taxes is "kind of a quixotic quest at best. I mean, when do we ever get our money's worth from our taxes?" He said he would support any study on quality and delivery of services.

Mr. Bernstein noted that Stanford Weekend Acres pays no property taxes for fire district services. "I haven't thought that was fair, but for some reason, in the fire services this idea of giving away some things for free is one of the norms," he said. Compensation and benefits to firefighters that "exceed community norms" are also inequitable, he said, and a discussion about equity is worth having.

Under state law, Mr. Carpenter said, "oversight authority for this fire district is the sole responsibility of this elected board. No other political entity or organization has legal oversight responsibility." As for distribution of tax revenues, that issue was decided by voters in statewide property tax propositions, and is not in the bailiwick of the fire district board, he said.

Board member Virginia Chang-Kiraly said that "if there is contentious verbiage thrown at each other, that does not help the cause to represent the residents that we have sworn to represent." The board and the City Council should be meeting, she said, adding that Chief Schapelhouman's relationship with Town Manager Rodericks is "good ... but could be better."

"I think overall, we need to have a – and I hate to use this word – more adult relationship," she said.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 30, 2016 at 10:58 am

Glad to hear both organizations are talking and going to address any concerns through meetings between the appropriate representatives.


12 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 30, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Sadly the Town Manager and at least one Council member have no interest in "lowering the heat".

In an email today Council Member DeGolia stated:

"The issue here is that this really isn't directly an issue for the Town or the Council, but we've taken it on because it is an issue for the residents and they have reached out to us as their representatives. Of course, the members of the Fire Board are also their representatives, but most residents look to the Council as their overall representatives and they see Fire Board members as representing more of a special or designated interest. "


And in another email today the Town Manager stated:
"The other item the Council is looking for is what the cost of fire services would be for the Town. Costs via the District and costs if we were to provide them ourselves."

The Town has NO legal authority for its attempted oversight of the Fire District.

That responsibility lies solely with the elected Fire Board.

This whole effort is a misuse of the Town of Atherton's limited resources and a misjudgement on the part of the Council.


22 people like this
Posted by Rick DeGolia
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 30, 2016 at 7:13 pm

I don't usually post on these blogs, but since Peter Carpenter took a quote of mine from a private email and publicly posted it on the blog, I guess it is only fair to all of you that read this blog to see my response to him, which I delivered privately, but he has now made it public. And, BTW, I definitely think that this whole issue is overblown and should cool down, as it has over the past week. It is Peter that keeps hyping it up.

Peter, you should chill out. You are totally out of line. I know that there is no intention on your part to do harm, but you have undermined yourself and your credibility. It's just too paranoid. No one is trying to do your job.

I have no idea where you get the idea that anyone on the Atherton Council thinks that we have any oversight over the Fire District. Maybe I'm naive and someone does think that, but I have not seen any evidence of it. I believe that is in your imagination.

I did say that our residents see us as their representatives. That doesn't imply that I think our residents look to us to have oversight over the Fire District. That kind of thinking is what I would call immature. I represent plenty of the residents in the Fire District and you know it, but I don't represent them with respect to the activities of the Fire District. I get asked all the time about issues that concern other jurisdictions: the library district, the fire district, the State, Congress. I get asked my opinion because people respect it and they see me as working hard to represent them and to do so in a way that they respect. That doesn't mean that I am exercising any authority or imagined authority over those jurisdictions. That's not my job. I don't want your job. I just want you to do your job and quit being so paranoid.

There is no harm in talking about the taxes that Atherton residents (or Menlo Park or any other residents) pay and what those residents get for those taxes. You should join that discussion in a healthy way, rather than accusing the Council of trying to take the Fire District tax dollars. That is utterly ridiculous. Not only are we not doing that, we couldn't do it even if we wanted to (which we don't). Personally, I believe that we have enough on our plate with planning our civic center and the need to raise funds to build it and to design it properly for the next 75 years. The last thing I'd want to think about is messing with fire services. Your assumption is so totally ridiculous that I don't know how else to respond. Really, I wish you'd chill out.


21 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 30, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The facts are clear:

The Town Manager stated today:
"The other item the Council is looking for is what the cost of fire services would be for the Town. Costs via the District and costs if we were to provide them ourselves."


And Council Member DeGolia stated today:
" I recognize that George has said that he wants to know what it would cost to provide fire services to Atherton residents from Atherton. I can understand how that might feel threatening, but he is following a line of thinking that is both his own and doesn't reflect policy from the Council."

Clearly the elected Town Council has lost control of its appointed Town Manager.

And in my 12 years of service on the Fire Board (elected three times by the 90,000 plus residents of the District including the 7000 residents of Atherton - the majority of whom voted for me all of times I was ran for this office) the current Atherton Town Manager is the only one of the more than dozen chief executives of Fire District partner agencies who has sought to weaken rather than strengthen his agency's relationship with the Fire District.

See the Fire Chief's report to the Fire Board on this matter:

Web Link

"From the District’s perspective, the relationship quickly deteriorated when the Town included the term of “detachment” from the Fire District, in its correspondence and communications with the media, public and Fire District. As I told the Town Manager, “that term is equivalent, in our world, to yelling FIRE, in a crowded theatre”, despite the remote chance that it could, or would, occur through a very difficult LAFCo process."


6 people like this
Posted by Think about it
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 30, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Calling your opponent "paranoid" or accusing him of having "undermined [him]self and [his] credibility" may not be the best ways to drive your point across in a debate.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 1, 2016 at 6:36 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is a disturbing lack of truthfulness in the statements from Atherton officials.


DeGolia states:
" rather than accusing the Council of trying to take the Fire District tax dollars. That is utterly ridiculous. Not only are we not doing that, we couldn't do it even if we wanted to (which we don't)."


Yet the Town Manager's 7 Sept staff report to the Council, including DeGolia, clearly stated:
"if shown that the cost to provide fire services to the Town is considerably less than the amount of property tax revenue collected by the District from Atherton residents, among other options, the City Council could consider the following:
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,........"


5 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 1, 2016 at 6:59 am

SteveC is a registered user.

I guess the Town Manager and the council would rather file stupid law suits with their limited funding.


6 people like this
Posted by Government Watch Dog
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2016 at 4:24 pm

If Atherton wants to provide services to their community that are better than those provided by others in which their tax dollars pay for, why don't they first consider

1) How their federal tax dollars are spent, and perhaps do things better than the Federal Government, OR

2) How their state tax dollars are spent, and perhaps do things better than the State of California does them, OR

3) With the School District, Hospital District, Junior College District and so on?

By and large, trying to provide FIRE SERVICES is a non-starter. If you could do it cheaper, it is likely you'd still have to contribute a portion of your property taxes to the District anyway. Thus you'd be paying double

Even if detachment, divorce or separation was possible from the Fire District, there is no conceivable way that the excellent service currently being provided could be duplicated by a single city. It is only through the collective efforts of combining funds from multiple jurisdictions is it possible to provide the FIRST RESPONDER services to a variety of fire, medical and disaster incidents within the Atherton geographical service area.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 1, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For complete information on the Fire District see these web pages:

Web Link

Web Link

If you want really detailed financial information see:

Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 1, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If you want detailed performance data see:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


Please feel free to post a request for information that is not already on the MPFPD site


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

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