News

Cause for alarm? How the Menlo Park Fire Protection District pays its employees

 

This is one of a series of stories on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's budget and financing. The district covers Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and nearby unincorporated areas. Please see the companion story: Firefighters deserve high pay, chief says.

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When the board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District voted on a new contract for its firefighters in August 2015, board member Chuck Bernstein was the only one of five board members who voted no.

To make sure his arguments against the contract were heard, including the fact that in the four years of the contract the amount the district spent in pay and benefits for firefighters was predicted to increase by 41 percent, Mr. Bernstein outlined the reasons for his vote in a public letter before the vote.

"I don't think it's any secret that I don't like this agreement. I think we're going to spend the next decade regretting it," he said before the vote.

He also voted against a separate contract with the district's non-firefighter employees. "I felt they weren't consistent with community standards," he said of the two contracts.

At the time, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the 41 percent projected increase was a "worst case" scenario. But, according to the fire district's 2016-17 fiscal year budget documents, the amount of wages and benefits budgeted by the district for this fiscal year is 30 percent more than it was two years ago, in 2014-15.

What Mr. Bernstein now says he didn't know when he was voting against the new contract, however, is that even before it was signed, the district's employees were already among the most highly paid public employees in the state.

In 2014, before the contract was signed, according to the California State Controller's website, the Menlo Park fire district's average wage of $140,488 was the highest of any special district including fire districts, transportation systems, health systems and utility districts in California.

In fact, in 2014, the fire district had the highest average wage in the state of all state and local public employers, including counties, cities, special districts, superior courts, state departments, fairs and expos, public K-12 education, community college districts, state universities, and the University of California system, according to the controller's Government Compensation in California website.

That website says the Menlo Park fire district has been in the top-10 list of average wages of all state and local government employers in California every year since 2009, which is as far back as the website's figures go. At its lowest ranking, the fire district was number 9 in the state in 2010.

In 2015, with the new contract in place, the state controller's website shows the Menlo Park fire district's $146,075 average wage falling to second highest in the state. However, the one agency with a higher average wage in 2015 was the Industrial Development Financing Advisory Commission, which has only one employee, an executive secretary in the CIDFAC/State Treasurer's Office who made $202,445 that year.

Fire districts do tend to have among the highest average wages in the state, and eight of the top 10 public agencies in 2015 were fire districts. The Woodside Fire Protection District was No. 7 on the list with average wages of $122,170, and was No. 2 on the list in 2011 and 2013.

But it is also true that the state controller's office lists more than 440 fire districts in the state and only 15 of them have average wages of more than $100,000.

(The state website figures average wages by taking the total paid in wages by the employer and dividing by the number of employees. It counts part-time and partial-year employees the same as full-time employees.)

The district says it was unaware of that website, or another similar independent website, and that the district's study of compensation at similar agencies did not show the district's wages as being the highest.

However, the district could not answer questions about exactly what was compared in the compensation study, and was attempting to locate the document to share with the Almanac as of Jan. 13.

Can't afford to live here?

It's a refrain that's been heard repeatedly in the past few years: housing prices have become so expensive in the Bay Area, and especially on the Midpeninsula, that essential public servants such as teachers and firefighters just can't afford to live here.

It seems, however, that it's not really fair to lump firefighters and teachers together, at least when it comes to pay in this area.

Menlo Park fire district employees are well-compensated. In 2015 (the latest year posted on the website), 16 of the district's 136 employees had more than $300,000 in total compensation (which includes benefits). According to the California state controller's website, the top earner, a fire captain who is also a paramedic, had nearly $360,000 in total compensation in 2015. There were 77 district employees whose total compensation topped $200,000 in 2015.

The district says the 2015 figures were an anomaly, because they included six months of retroactive pay raises going back to July 2014 that were reported in 2015, as well as some lump sum settlements granted when the district lost two labor relations cases.

But in 2014, before the new contract had been adopted, the district still had 49 of its 114 employees whose total compensation topped $200,000, with 11 of those who had more than $250,000 in total compensation. If the back pay had been paid in 2014 as part of regular wages, the totals would have been even higher that year.

In 2014, excluding benefits, 25 fire district employees topped $175,000 in total pay (including overtime and other lump sum pay).

Schools compared

For the curious, in the Menlo Park City School District (with 510 people on its payroll), six employees had total compensation above $200,000 in 2015.

The only employee whose total compensation was more than $250,000, the district's superintendent, had wages and benefits totaling $269,000. All of those earning above $200,000 in the school district were administrators, with the highest-paid teacher receiving just under $153,000 in total compensation.

Excluding benefits, six school district employees had total pay above $175,000 in 2015, and again all were administrators.

Wages are public records

The money paid to public employees is a matter of public record because it comes from taxpayers, giving the public the legal right to know the details of what is paid to anyone working for a government agency.

In addition to the state controller's Government Compensation in California website, the information can also be found online on Transparent California, an independent website.

The state lists pay details by job title and Transparent California lists pay details by employee name and job title. Both websites say their information came from the agencies, and some agencies have not provided their figures. The numbers listed on the two websites are not identical, but they are very close.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said he did not know about either of the websites before they were brought to his attention by the Almanac. He said the district will take a close look at them to make sure their figures are correct. But in a meeting on Jan. 10, Kathleen Jackson, the district's administrative services manager, said that the figures on the state website do appear to match the information provided by the district to the state controller's office.

What the records show

The two websites show that many of the fire district's top earners aren't administrators, but firefighters.

In 2014, the state list of the top 10 district employees in total compensation includes two engineer-paramedics and two captain-paramedics along with the four division chiefs, a battalion chief and the fire chief. No. 1 on the list made close to $326,000, and number 10 made just under $254,000, including benefits.

In 2015, the year that included the back pay and labor settlement payments, the top nine on the state website are all fire captain/paramedics or engineer/paramedics. All but one of the employees with total compensation of $300,000 or more are in the fire suppression department, with the chief the only one who is not. In 2015, the district's chief was at No. 12 for total compensation.

Without adding in benefits, when only total wages (base pay, overtime and other onetime or extra pay) are considered, the district's highest-paid employee made $294,370 in 2015. The fire district had 47 employees who made more than $200,000 in total wages, with nine of those making more than $250,000 in total wages in 2015. Once again, all of those making more than $200,000 were firefighters, except for the chief.

In 2014 there were 24 fire district employees who made $175,000 or more in total wages, with 11 of those making $200,000 or more in total wages.

A lot of overtime

Much of the reason for the fire district's high pay totals appears to be overtime. The state website doesn't break out overtime separately in its spreadsheet, but Transparent California says 28 district employees were paid more than $50,000 for overtime in 2015; 10 of those were paid more than $75,000 for overtime; and two of those were paid more than $100,000 ($127,998 and $106,428).

The district says that some firefighters received back overtime pay in 2015, inflating the totals.

In 2014, 11 district employees made more than $50,000 in overtime. The highest went to an engineer/paramedic who had $104,465 in overtime, nearly matching his base salary of $117,477.

Budget documents posted on the district's website show the district spent $3.6 million on overtime pay in 2015-16 and that overtime is budgeted at $2 million in 2016-17.

The district says the reason it spent so much on overtime is because it was understaffed coming out of the recession.

Another reason is that the fire district sends a lot of its firefighters to help with fires and disasters in other areas. In California, those calls for help have been at record levels.

In 2015-16, district employees responded to 16 California fires (mostly wildfires) and the district was reimbursed more than $546,000. Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the district is reimbursed for the firefighters who help out with state fires, but they are not reimbursed for anything spent on overtime for firefighters who have to backfill for the missing firefighters.

When firefighters travel to help out nationally, however, the district is repaid all its costs, including any overtime spent on backfilling for the absent personnel, the district says.

Peter Carpenter, who recently became the president of the fire district's board of directors, said the deployments are valuable to the district. "The people who are deployed get experience and training that it would have cost us millions of dollars to do," he said.

The district hesitated to hire new firefighters for several years, Chief Schapelhouman said, partially because the district did not have a contract with its firefighters between 2008 and the adoption of the contract in August 2015. (It was retroactive to July 2014.) The district was also unsure how much it would have to pay into the state retirement system, which has been undergoing turmoil for several years.

A key point about overtime pay, which Mr. Carpenter said the board has always used "as a key management indicator," is that it does not count toward retirement pay, therefore neither the district nor the firefighters pay a percentage of it into the state retirement system.

The district hired eight firefighters in 2015 and 12 more in 2016, and officials say the district is now fully staffed with the equivalent of 125.5 full-time employees, plus three full-time-equivalent employees funded by grants. Six filled new positions and 14 filled vacant positions.

The district says 16 employees retired or resigned in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 budget years, and that the additional employees were figured in when predicting how much labor costs would rise over the term of the new firefighters' contract.

New fire stations

Employee compensation is not the only thing the fire district has been spending money on. The district also has an ambitious program of capital improvements, with plans to build a new fire station every two years for the next 10 years.

Construction of a new fire station in East Palo Alto (Fire Station 2) was completed in April 2016. Ground was broken on a new downtown Menlo Park fire station (Fire Station 6), and a fire district museum, on Jan. 9 (about six months later than originally scheduled).

The district recently purchased a home at 114 Santa Margarita Ave. in Menlo Park, adjacent to the district's administrative headquarters at 170 Middlefield Road, with the plan of renovating it to house additional administration and fire prevention employees. The district is also considering buying property at St. Patrick's Seminary adjacent to Fire Station 1.

A 10-year "deployment action plan" presented by Chief Schapelhouman in March 2016 calls for the district's station on Middlefield Road (Fire Station 1) to be rebuilt starting in June 2018, and the station on Chilco Street (Station 77) in Menlo Park to be replaced in 2020. In 2022 the plan calls for a new station to replace Station 4 on Alameda de las Pulgas in unincorporated West Menlo Park.

By 2026, the plan sees potential daily staffing of 33 firefighters to work at the expanded stations. Since firefighters work two days on (48 consecutive hours) and four days off, that staffing plan would require at least 99 firefighters.

Comments

72 people like this
Posted by Hypocrite
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Peter Carpenter has cemented himself as the biggest hypocrite the community has ever had, in my opinion. To be fighting over the school parcel tax's meager (and insufficient) $360 request to educate our kids and pay our teachers (who can't afford to live in the community) while continuing to support ensuring firefighters are the highest paid workers in the state – it's ridiculous, Peter. You make yourself appear a fool.


30 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The headline is Cause for Alarm with a question mark.

Your Fire District is one of the best in the Nation, its firefighters have more actual firefighting and disaster response experience than any other comparably sized agency, has superb response times, pays all of its current year expenses including pension costs and building and apparatus replacement costs out of its current years tax revenues, has no parcel tax, has no customer complaints and has a balanced budget.

Cause for Alarm? No.

Cause for Appreciation? Yes


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The facts are clear that:
1 - I urged the School Board to put the full $515 parcel tax on the ballot,
2 - I have consistently supported the current $360 parcel tax proposal,
3 - I have urged the proponents to do a much better job of marketing the proposed $360 parcel tax to the non-parent voters because I want it to pass,
4 - I believe that the proceeds from the $360 parcel tax, if it receives the required 2/3s approval, should go to programs rather than to salary increases (as happened in PAUSD).

Unfortunately hypocrites have no interest in the facts and instead try to create fake news.


50 people like this
Posted by Willows resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm

How come SF Fire Dept is 15% female, but MP can't find a single woman to recruit out of the 20 new positions? [part removed] ... if other fire departments can find female recruits which they do, so can Menlo Park. MPFD is an old boys club frat house with top executive level pay footed by us taxpayers. I appreciate firefighters as much as the next person, but with three in my own family I know its a pretty cush job that doesn't require an expensive advanced education or skill set and the benefits are incredible. For MP to pay the top ten firefighters in the +300k range for 2015 is nuts. and #1 in the state? something is amiss.


31 people like this
Posted by KGP
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm

We have an exceptionally great fire department -- 99.99%. Excellent training, people, equipment, excellent administration, great service. Hands down. Without objection.

The issue for me is that Menlo Fire's budget comes from (predominately) our taxes. So does the funding for other city and community services. While it hasn't been expressed in this way, it seems that the growing concern and sensitivity is that some of these services are struggling. Most wouldn't rank as "top 99% or 90% or even 70%". Yet the funding allocated the fire district is, for lack of a better term, a fixed portion of the pie. As property tax revenue rises, so does their budget.

While I take great comfort in knowing that I'm being serviced and protected by an exceptional fire department, if allowed, I would gladly trade some of the exceptionally great costs to other city and community programs -- like schools. How "great" of a fire department do we want and need? That's not for me to say. This is really up to the community to decide.


45 people like this
Posted by henry fox
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm

The pay is especially outrageous when you considered that there are 300 qualified applicants for every firefighter opening.


32 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:41 pm

How do we know that firefighters are overpaid? Because the line of qualified applicants extends around the street when openings are to be filled.


41 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm

@henry fox -- 100%

I just made the same point in response to the companion article. This is human resources 101 stuff. When an employer is overwhelmed with qualified candidates for new openings -- over and over and over again -- that is great indicator that something is off.

@KGP, I would be more than happy to have a "95% great fire department". There is a huge difference in costs between 95% and 99.99% -- reallocated it as needed to other city services.


32 people like this
Posted by Dole
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

@Willows Resident -- came here to make the same point. Have a long time connection with someone who has been at MPFire for 12+ years. The bragging and bravado about the $$$ is non-stop. He himself can't believe how much he takes home... oh, what to buy now? Ha, Ha, Ha.


12 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Proposition: Menlo Park would be safer with twice as many firefighters paid half as much, even if the quality of each firefighter was slightly reduced.


9 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Remember we used to ask little kids what do you want to be when you grow up? Fireman.
A lot of smart little kids.


42 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:11 pm

As a resident of both the Fire District and the MPCSD school district, I appreciate the professionalism with which both are run. I am glad that Fire District employees can be so well paid.

But I am gobsmacked that anyone on the Fire District board would feel qualified to dictate how the school district — with salaries so much lower than the fire district — should allocate its funds. I have never heard a School Board member presume to criticize the Fire District. Yet clearly they could! Those salaries are — upon digging into the links that Ms. Wood has kindly provided — Extremely High by any statewide standard.

The school district’s governance will make the best choice possible of how to spend its funds. If making sure that teachers can afford to live in this area is that choice, then salary increases are the best financial decision. School teachers do NOT have the luxury of living 100 miles away that firefighters enjoy.

Bravo to Barbara Wood for turning our attention on an agency, whose own governance has worked so assiduously to (unsuccessfully) point the "excessive spending" spotlight elsewhere.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Jennifer - Being an elected official does not remove my rights to speak out as a citizen - as much as you would like to silence me.


25 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm

My only expectation of any elected official is that they would show somewhat more, rather than considerably less, respect for other publicly elected officials.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"My only expectation of any elected official is that they would show somewhat more, rather than considerably less, respect for other publicly elected officials."

I agree -but I would hope that citizens also expect far more than that from their elected officials.


3 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

Jennifer
As many of us do Peter has an opinion or two, and is not afraid to make them known. They may be a bit repetitive at times but most are informative and well thought out.

However, we should all be thankful that Peter thinks before he types and is not a serial tweeter.


16 people like this
Posted by Edward Moritz
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Proud of Chuck.

Disappointed in Peter and Virginia.

Chuck was the canary in the coal mine about pension costs for the city of Menlo Park (and every city and agency beholding to the corrupt CalPERS) back when the city Council and the unions were drinking the cool-aid of the dot-com stock market. Chuck's ability to understand the principles of accounting and math proved to be spot-on.

Chuck manages an enterprise and is forced to deal with economic constraints and reality. I guess that's the difference.


26 people like this
Posted by Gross mismanagement
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm

It speaks of gross mismanagement that so many fire employees make far more than $150,000 per year due to overtime and contractual benefits. That is a significant amount of money, even in the peninsula.

The leadership team that allowed that mismanagement of tax payer dollars to happen should offer their resignation.

At minimum a hard cap is needed on overtime and firefighters shouldn't be dispatched to other locations if the dept budget can't afford it.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As noted, if you actually read Wood's excellent article, all out of District deployment are fully reimbursed and on some of the out of district deployments the District actually gets paid more than the overtime costs incurred.

Equally important is that every one of those deployments involve real world experience and training that cost the district nothing but which would cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When such deployment overtime is removed the MPCSD firefighters are not the highest paid in the State.


16 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 7:37 pm


How do we, as citizens, change what % goes to Fire District vs Schools? I'd like to see an even bigger percentage go to the County’s public schools (not just MPCSD & Sequoia; all County schools). State and Federal funding for public schools has been cut so much and will likely continue to get cut with the incoming Trump administration.

I thought I saw a recent Almanac article about where taxes go, but I’m not finding it. In lieu of that, here’s the property tax allocation I could find from the County:
Web Link

I support our Fire Fighters and appreciate their service to the community and greater California. I know they risk their lives on a daily basis and have to endure heart-wrenching accidents with compassion and courage.

Fire District Board of Supervisors: just because the Fire District has enough taxpayer money doesn't mean it should extravagantly spend it. It’s also not acceptable to say that you don’t know what other districts pay their fire fighters. It’s all been out there for years, just as it has for teacher salaries across the state. A quick Google search gets to the data.


6 people like this
Posted by Triona
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 6:20 am

I wish the Menlo Park School District Teachers were among the top 10 best paid in the state. We need to attract the best teachers we possibly can.


17 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 6:39 am

@PeterCarpenter

So, your argument is if we take out the amount of overtime that we pay our firefighters, for whatever reason, then they're not the highest paid? That's ridiculous. Talk about burying your head in the sand or trying to divert attention. Jeez.

Ms Woods says:
"In 2015-16, district employees responded to 16 California fires (mostly wildfires) and the district was reimbursed more than $546,000. Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the district is reimbursed for the firefighters who help out with state fires, but they are not reimbursed for anything spent on overtime for firefighters who have to backfill for the missing firefighters.

When firefighters travel to help out nationally, however, the district is repaid all its costs, including any overtime spent on backfilling for the absent personnel, the district says."

Peter you are incorrect. Your own fire chief advises that out of district overtime is not reimbursed for state deployment. It is however reimbursed for national deployment. What amount of that $2m overtime cost was for state appointment and what amount was for national appointment and therefore reimbursed?

The article does note expenditures for overtime. The chief notes revenues of just over one half million and your budget has expenditures of $2 million. What are the revenue reimbursements and how does that square against expenses? The chief says overtime is due to staffing?...so which is it? Reimbursed fully or a staffing problem?


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 6:56 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The total expense booked to the forestry deployment program is $357,405.33. This expense only
includes safety personnel expense and direct vehicle expense such as fuel and car rentals. Not
included in the expense line item is the cost for overhead by the administration/Chiefs which
includes the processing of claims, verifying timecards and Telestaff entry’s, reviewing and
accepting orders as well as lining up backfill. Also not included is the indirect cost for the wear
and tear on the District vehicles and apparatus.

Summary of District expenses and expected reimbursement.
Total Anticipated Reimbursement $500,834.62
District Expense $357,405.33
Difference $143,429.29

Detail of District expenses and expected reimbursement.
Category Expense Reimbursement
Personnel $346,309.00 $365,866.00
Apparatus $11,096.00 $43,318.00
WC N/A $32,232.76
Admin N/A $59,417.75
Total $357,405.00 $500,834.00

FISCAL IMPACT
The fiscal impact on the District is the initial outlay of funds for personnel costs until the
reimbursement claims can be submitted and ultimately paid."


13 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:05 am

While the detail is appreciated, it doesn't address the issue. Yes, the district is reimbursed for costs when responding to out of district aid. But the chief indicated in the article that overtime for backfill is not reimbursed when responding to out of district aid requests in California. That cost is borne by local tax payers. Of the $2 million in estimated overtime costs in the budget, how much of that cost is reimbursed? How many national incidence did the district respond to and were all of those costs reimbursed? What is the time lag for reimbursement? Multi years?


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:09 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Triona:

the MPCSD teachers ARE among the highest paid in the state.


9 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:28 am

As I posted in the related article, "Firefighters deserve high pay chief says":

Interesting numbers according to Transparent California for 2015 fire chief's regular pay (rounded):

San Diego - $156,000
San Francisco - $303,000
Los Angeles - $291,000
Sacramento (city) - $176,000
Oakland - $217,000
Sacramento Metro Fire Dist. - $235,000
Orange County Fire Authority - $255,000
Truckee Fire Dist - $163,000

Menlo Park Fire - $217,000

San Diego and Sacramento are both larger cities and pay their chief less; Oakland pays its chief the same as Menlo Park.

Just out of curiosity, how much does a firefighter in Manhattan earn?


5 people like this
Posted by whocares
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:43 am

MV-"the MPCSD teachers ARE among the highest paid in the state."

Yes, and according to the links in the article, MP firefighters could make $35,000 per year less and still be in the top 10 in the state for firefighters, or as you say "among the highest paid in the state."
With 114 employees (again, from the link) that;s almost $4,000,000 per year. Not chump change.

Yes, firefighting is a risky job. but not very risky.
Web Link
Roofing has like 10x the fatality rate. I seem to remember that you are a builder, Menlo Voter. How many of your roofers are making $300K? Peter, any idea what the workers were getting paid last time you had your roof done?


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:45 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For State wildland deployments the chargeable expenses were $357,405.00
and the actual reimbursement was $500,834.00
- the difference covered items like backfill overtime that were not chargeable expenses.

Deployment are cost neutral or better and those deployment provide training and experience that would cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars to duplicate.



12 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:57 am

Either I am not understanding or Mr Carpenter is avoiding the answers. Yes, overtime is not a chargeable expense (you were incorrect in your earlier post) but it is still a cost of the district responding to put of district deployments in California. What is that cost? The District, and therefore local taxpayers, would not have that cost if the District was not as free wheeling with their out of district deployments. The excuse of training and experience is great but I'm sure the District also has a healthy training budget - perhaps around $1.5m. And an argument that I'm going to pay person A overtime so person B can go on a regional deployment opportunity and we will sell it as training so that the taxpayer is none the wiser isn't cool.

And still not answer on the national deployments. How many and how much was reimbursed? I am guessing that the national deployments are not budgeted on either side so the true overtime cost is still quite high. And if we are calling it training or a staffing issue - either way, it's part of what firefighters are paid. You can't have it both ways.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:14 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

You are not understanding the answers being given.

For State deployments backfill overtime (the overtime associated with filling the position of the person deployed ) is not a chargeable line item however the State reimburses the District for the chargeable line items PLUS a significant amount of overhead costs ( the difference between $357,405.00 of chargeable expenses and the actual reimbursement of $500,834.00 or $143,429.00.)

The District does NOT lose money on State deployment and we also gains valuable and expensive experience.

It helps to pay attention.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"And an argument that I'm going to pay person A overtime so person B can go on a regional deployment opportunity and we will sell it as training so that the taxpayer is none the wiser isn't cool.
"

You really do not understand or read the answers that have been provided. The full cost of the person who is deployed is paid either by the State of the federal government and the District taxpayers pay NONE pf these costs.


The fact that such deployments provide an invaluable training benefit (and at no cost) is of great value to the district residents. For example the residents of Walsh Road are served by Engine 4 which is the District's first out wildland deployment engine. The crews deployed on those wildland fires are much better prepared to deal with the dense vegetation, terrain and limited access of the Walsh Road area than are any other urban firefighting crew.


1 person likes this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:30 am

Again, an overhead cost is a cost reimbursed. I get that and that's great - even if you are fudging the numbers in some way to make the District come out ahead (which seems to be what you are saying). Not sure that's legal. Nevertheless, the District incurs overtime cost that is not reimbursed. What is that cost. Simple question.

And still not answer on national deployments.

It helps to pay attention.


21 people like this
Posted by Clear Vision
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:46 am

I love when the fire board is called out on how they are in the back pocket of the department they respond with telling everyone how we don't understand.

Bottom line you are charged with providing fiscal oversight to the department and its pretty clear that the board has consistently rubber stamped outrageous pay packages. Yes we have a great department, but they are taking advantage of you and the taxpayers.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Claimed and itemized State costs include the overtime costs for the deployed firefighter.

The Stat's reimbursement includes a significant overhead component, as note above, that covers many things including any backfill overtime. Since that backfill overtime is not a claimed itemized item it is not separately accounted.


For the FOURTH TIME - State deployment are COST NEUTRAL to the District and cost the District taxpayers pay nothing for these deployments.


14 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:55 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"that the board has consistently rubber stamped outrageous pay packages."

Every proposed labor agreement was provide to the public for comment for 30 days before the Board acted on any pay increases.

The current MOU comes after almost 6 YEARS without either a contract or a pay raise.

The Fire Board actually does not even have a rubber stamp as our minutes would show.


7 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:01 am

Alright, so I'm clear - You are advising that for a state deployment, backfill overtime is an ineligible cost for reimbursement. So, the District instead buries it as an overhead cost when it bills the state for reimbursement so that its cost neutral. Interesting. Thanks for clarifying. That's your position as a Board Member?


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"So, the District instead buries it as an overhead cost when it bills the state for reimbursement so that its cost neutral. Interesting."


The allowable overhead is sufficient for and intended to cover a number of unitemized costs - that is the entire basis for overhead.

The District does what is required and legal and you should be comforted that we do so in your interests rather than trying to posit a scandal where none exists.

Shame on you!


11 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:43 am

Salaries:
MENLO FIRE has the highest paid management and staff in Caifornia. Even with these high costs, we have great response times, highest level of training, and a finnicially solid base.

These high costs are a direct result of a Silicon Valley economic environment and years of other government communities providing high salaries to management and staff. In order to provide our community with the best service, the fire department needs to competive.

The fire board, chief, management and staff need to be commended for their value and service to our community. We have experienced the department services, which were excellent. The value of human life and property are not measurable in monetary value.

We thank them for their service.

You get what you pay for and their service to our community is outstanding. If you don't want to pay, sell your house, make your monetary gain, and move to another community.


5 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

Nothing of the sort. Merely trying to reconcile the comments. The chief says "...the district is reimbursed for the firefighters who help out with state fires, but they are not reimbursed for anything spent on overtime for firefighters who have to backfill for the missing firefighters." You said "...the District gets actually gets paid more than the overtime costs incurred." You said "...the backfill overtime is not a chargeable line item..." You said the "...overhead component...covers the backfill overtime...". But, the overhead component should legitimately cover actual overhead costs which are true costs as well. How can you add backfill overtime into the overhead cost if backfill overtime is not chargeable? If the State wanted to pay backfill overtime why would they not make it chargeable but then look the other way if you add it back in as overhead? Doesn't make sense.


20 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:59 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

@Peter

Does the reimbursement also include the %30+ cost of Pensions (i.e.) the total cost? or just the base salary and overtime?

The district had a VERY contentious negotiation with the Firefighters that last years without a contract. I think that our costs are a "field of dreams" issue. If you build it they will come, or in our case if you have the $$ they will spend it.

I know the Fire District is now also looking at Developer Impact Fees to increase it's budget. I would assume based on the budget excess we are talking about here, that this is now off the table? The visibility would be disastrous for the District to ask for more money after seeing what it spends on personnel.

Again, I think the district provides a great service (albeit at Cadillac or more like Rolls Royce pricing). they are as described above excellent and courageous at what they do. My concern has ALWAYS been the small number of fires we respond to, this number indicates we should have a two tier employee model with Paramedics making SIGNIFICANTLY less as they do in many departments (i.e. Long Beach), and a Fire Brigade to deal with the small number of actual fire calls. Or could paramedic care be provided by another agency at a more value based price.....

Roy Thiele-Sardina


16 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:05 am

@ Citizen --

I'll bet even if the salaries were lower, you would still get qualified applicants. Please don't equate response times and best service with salaries, that diminishes the profession. Firefighters who work in Manhattan would be offended by this comment since they work equally hard but don't earn nearly the same as MP firefighters, yet the economic environment is quite high.

What does it say when the MP fire chief makes the same as Oakland and more than San Diego -- both with much larger departments.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:06 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Roy - perhaps you can explain the 25% increase in connection fees that the sanitary district is proposing to charge?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:11 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Get it right - I suggest that you file a Public Records Request with the California OES to get the answers to the questions that you seem not to understand.

Before you do you might well read the District Comprehensive Annual Financial Report including the unqualified opinion on that report by the auditors.

"Each year an independent firm of certified public accountants performs an audit of the Fire District’s
financial statements. The firm also conducts a Single Audit of the District’s use of federal government
grant funds which support the US&R task force program.

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for FY 2015-16 has been completed and has
received an unqualified (clean) opinion from the District’s auditors, the accounting firm of The Pun
Group Accountants and Advisors. In performing the audit, the auditors reviewed the District’s internal
control structure in order to determine whether or not any procedural deficiencies were present in
significant areas of operation. This review is not designed to provide complete assurance of the internal
control structure, but rather a systematic examination of key procedures and operational processes. In
the most recent audit, covering fiscal year 2015-16, the auditors noted no significant deficiencies or
material weaknesses. "

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:12 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Yes, that is based on the cost of the Sewage Treatment Plant, and calculated every 10 years based on asset replacement. and is HALF of several districts in the penninsula. we are a cost leader on $ per mile of pipe.

you should attend a meeting once in a while to catch up.

it was discussed at the last WBSD meeting and the report is available on our website.

Thanks for asking.

Roy



4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:13 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Does the reimbursement also include the %30+ cost of Pensions (i.e.) the total cost? or just the base salary and overtime?"

Deployment reimbursements cover incurred pension costs as an allowable expense.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Yes, that is based on the cost of the Sewage Treatment Plant"

Glad that even Roy understands cost recovery - which would be the only legal basis for any development fees.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:23 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Further details:
"“The State reimburses the District for forestry deployments based on the average pay rate of the employees classification at their overtime rate for every hour deployed. The reimbursement is intended to cover the overtime cost of the employee deployed and the overtime cost for the employee backfilling.” To further clarify this statement, Every hour that a District employee is deployed the District receives reimbursement at the average overtime rate for that persons classification.

Scenario 1
Person A is deployed and it is their normal working day.
The District backfills person A with person B.
The District pays the straight time for the person deployed and the overtime for the person backfilling.
The District is reimbursed at the average overtime rate for the person deployed.

Scenario 2
Person A is deployed and are working on a day they are not normally scheduled to work.
The District pays person A overtime.
The District is reimbursed at the average overtime rate for the person deployed.

Neither scenario guarantees that the District will be reimbursed for actual overtime costs since average rates are used.

The actual language from the agreement is: “It is the intent of the signatories to the CFAA to compensate California Fire and Rescue MutualAid System Agencies for the cost of assisting the State of California and the Federal Fire Agencies. The rates, methodologies, and formulas in the Agreement are intended to provide for such costs.”


8 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

@Peter,

For the record the increase in connection fees is 15%, and as I stated earlier is the first increase in over a decade.

Roy

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:27 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Thanks Roy - any Fire District development fees would be the first in over 100 years.


3 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 12:21 pm

To Bob,


Move to Oakland or San Diego. These cities are city departments and not special districts. Menlo Chief assumes 2 roles, fire chief and city (District) manager.....Oakland and San Diego share tax revenue with other city departments. Both cities and departments have serious finnicial issues. No thank you.


2 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Now THAT's a better explanation than the conflicting comments and the "go look at our CAFR" response. Thank you. Makes sense now - the state DOES pay overtime because they pay for the deployment at the overtime rate. The District I assume schedules the deployment at the regular rate and is therefore reimbursed for the overtime of the backfill.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"even if you are fudging the numbers in some way to make the District come out ahead (which seems to be what you are saying). Not sure that's legal"


Perhaps now you will apologize for your inappropriate remarks?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Federal deployments:

In 2014 - Washington Mudslide and Hurricane Matthew. Both IST deployments. Both reimbursed at full claim summary cost with no exception.

In 2015 MPFPD Task Force 3 conducted an exercise at Levi Stadium (Op501) in which 15 of the participants were Menlo Park Fire Personnel using funding from our FY13 Cooperative Agreement. In general, the costs for Op501 were $179,000 in personnel (all agencies and civilians), $17,000 in supplies and $7,500 in contractual for a total of $203,500.00 and this was a cost neutral exercise.

In 2016 - Three non active duty or civilian members responded to Hurricane Matthew.


3 people like this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Sorry - no, because if that was what was going on it WAS illegal. Not until you provided the additional detail was it corrected. Your posts were incorrect and misleading. If that had been your first explanation then the incorrect assumptions would not have been made. Get it right please.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Sorry that you cannot read what was clearly stated in the original article and in my posts.


7 people like this
Posted by JBCHAM
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 18, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Get it right please,
It seems you have a personal disagreement with Peter Carpenter playing out in these postings. I am not sure what that has to do with the original subject matter, i.e. the amount of compensation paid to firefighters. May I suggest that you and Peter Carpenter meet for a cup of coffee and amicably work out your differences.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"May I suggest that you and Peter Carpenter meet for a cup of coffee and amicably work out your differences."


Great idea.

Ann's at 10 AM tomorrow, Thursday?


Like this comment
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 4:52 pm

No. There is no personal disagreement. I simply do not like to be told something as fact that doesn't contain all of the facts. His later explanation was far more detailed and actually advised that overtime IS reimbursed. The chief said it was not and he did as well. It wasn't clarified until his last explanation on the topic.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 4:57 pm

So, 10AM at Ann's tomorrow?


1 person likes this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Sorry Peter, thanks for the invite and maybe someday. Just not now on this issue. I have better things to do with my time. I just wanted to make sure that all the facts are provided. You have answered my question and that's appreciated.


11 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Thanks to Barbara Wood and the Almanac for the superb reporting. I very much appreciate our excellent community fire protection services, but these salaries are extremely difficult to stomach.


2 people like this
Posted by JBCHAM
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:32 pm

Get it right please,










Get it right please,
There is no personal disagreement?!?
First you accuse Peter Carpenter of burying his head in the sand to divert attention and then you insinuate he is fudging numbers. WOW! That sure sounds like a disagreement to me. I do not understand why you are unwilling to sit down with him and see if you can come to some agreement and understanding, even if it is "to agree to disagree."








1 person likes this
Posted by Get it right please
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 19, 2017 at 9:48 am

Not really. We are talking about taxpayer funds. It is important to have a bit of clarity around the information presented. And when public officials say one thing and follow it up with the rationale it's important for the facts to be right. In this case, Peter was not very clear nor was he consistent with what the fire chief said in the article.

I do not have a beef with Peter. I don't need to meet him for coffee to hug it out. The fire chief said overtime is not reimbursed. Peter said that it was but it was not a chargeable item and they put it into overhead. He even went so far as to imply they made money on the deal. That just doesn't smell right. I really don't care what the auditor said in the age of the City of Bell. That's not very helpful. However, as I said in my post his final exclamation made sense and was very much appreciated.


1 person likes this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 19, 2017 at 11:16 am

The high compensation numbers are certainly noteworthy. However, if a lot of that money is being paid for by the state and federal governments, not by fire district taxpayers, then the compensation level isn't as worrisome. The local taxpayer is not bearing those overtime and associated costs. (Well, sort of, our taxes to state and federal government do, but that's a small percentage of the overall cost.)

The average taxpayer should be worried when local government is spending too much of their own money. If additional money is coming in from outside sources, then that's free money. The sensationalism of the high numbers cause people to ignore this fact.

If you think about what needs to be done to bring that current overtime pay down, it's to direct fire district staff to never help out during federal and state emergencies. Nobody wants that.

That's not to say firefighter base pay and benefits should not be examined. Mr. Bernstein brings up some great points that should continue to be discussed.


13 people like this
Posted by Keep in mind...
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 19, 2017 at 12:57 pm

The firefighters (aka privileged white male club) work for 48 hours, then are off 96 hours. They sleep for about 1/3 of their shift. That works out to 122 days of work a year, not even counting the sleep part since they're on call, about half as many days as most of us work.

The fire chief's anecdotes about the perilous firefighter lifestyle focus on stories like falling off ladders rescuing cats. Really? This is an overpaid plum job, and while many of us value the firefighters, it's hard to justify the equivalent of $600k/year for so many of them.


6 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2017 at 5:54 pm

Its sure seems the tax payers are getting screwed and asked to foot the bill for yet another agency. First its the school district that needs more money now the fire district is singing the sane song. Both these groups have been shown by multiple links to be making a very good salary. School teachers making in excess of $100,000.00 and firefighters making more then 200.000.00. How much more do these people need to do a good job. I'm all for fair pay but the records indicate these groups are paid very well already. At some point tax payers need to stand up and say enough is enough. This is ludicrous and its time to vote NO on these new tax measures. In my opinion both the teachers and firefighter are being compensated very fairly for doing their jobs. These groups will never be satisfied. Look at the school district coming right back after last years fiasco and asking for more money. Now the firefighters want to do the same. Time to say STOP. Cant live on $200,000.00.....Give me a break.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"First its the school district that needs more money now the fire district is singing the sane song. "

Correct - the Fire District is singing the SANE song.

Fire District does not have and is NOT asking for a parcel tax. The Fire District learned long ago to live within the means of its revenues, to limit the number of its employees to those which it can afford to pay including their pension costs, to accrue from its current revenues reserves funds for replacement of its equipment and fire stations and for the funding of predictable future pension bills from CalPERS.


9 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 19, 2017 at 7:10 pm

Seems clear that school district should get a bigger share of property tax than now, and fire district share of property tax should be reduced.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 7:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George - Please feel free to propose a State ballot proposition to overturn Prop 13.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 7:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George - Why do you propose to penalize a very well managed public agency in order to benefit another public agency that hires more employees than it can support and which relies on parcel taxes to pay its bills and bond issues to construct its buildings instead of living within its means?


9 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 19, 2017 at 7:59 pm

Because I don't think the fire district needs $39 million property taxes and school district needs more than $27 million property taxes.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George _ So yours is one vote. How do you propose to get millions of other California voters to support you in over turning Prop 13?

And why do you wish to reward poor public stewardship by punishing superb public stewardship?


5 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2017 at 8:40 pm

The money the fire district pays its employees comes from the taxpayers. Believe me, I appreciate the fire department for the work they do and the teachers that teach our children. What I don't appreciate is being told that $200,000 is not enough for the firemen. Im not convinced that the raise is warranted for the firemen.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 8:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Im not convinced that the raise is warranted for the firemen."

Don't worry, the firefighters' contract does not expire until 2019.


16 people like this
Posted by Be Honest
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 19, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Let's be realistic. Menlo Park firefighters do a very good job. It's not an easy job, and they are well-prepared and responsive. It's a technical profession and they have shown their ability to handle it admirably. Kudos to them on this.

However, the data doesn't lie. They are supremely compensated for their role. Menlo Park Fire District is the 2nd highest paid fire department in the state, just behind Manhattan Beach. MPFD Firefighter's average wage is 49.6% higher than the average for the state.

And when we look at the cost of MPFD for their 136 employees, the total wages are $19.9 million in 2015 with an extra $5.3 million for retirement and health. The city of Menlo Park's total wages was $24.3 million with an extra $8.1 for retirement and health. Yet, the city employs 531 workers. In other words, a member of MPFD gets paid 3X as much as the average Menlo Park city worker.


5 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2017 at 11:23 am

George Fisher is a registered user.

Peter

1. Property tax allocations are made by state and county, not Proposition 13.

2. Fire Board members have committed an overgenerous Menlo Park Fire district property tax allocation into employee compensation committements through 2019.

3. School district employees are not overpaid and many are underpaid. Your opposition to increased teacher compensation is ludicrous.

4. Property Tax dollars locally need to be reallocated.

"The lady protests too much, methinks."


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 11:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George - You simply do not understand the law. Prop 13 froze the distribution of general tax revenues among all of the recipient agencies. That distribution cannot be changed by any local entity. The County distributes the taxes in accordance with those Prop 13 frozen allocations but the County cannot change the distribution.

"Prior to the passage of Proposition 13 in
1978, local governments were able to adjust property
tax rates annually to accommodate changes in
costs of and demands for services. Under Proposition
13, the state determines the allocation of the
property tax collected among the local entities in
each county. The enabling legislation passed in
1978 and 1979 sets the share of the revenues allocated
to each local jurisdiction based on the
proportion of countywide property tax revenues it
received prior to Proposition 13 implementation"

ALLOCATING PROPERTY TAX REVENUE IN CALIFORNIA:
LIVING WITH PROPOSITION 13
Therese A. McCarty, Union College
Terri A. Sexton, University of California, Davis
Steven M. Sheffrin, University of California, Davis
Stephen D. Shelby, University of California, Davis*

Proposition 13 has been part of the California Constitution for 38 years, 7 months, and 13 days and the Georges cannot just snap their fingers and raid an agency's property tax revenues.


2 people like this
Posted by JBCHAM
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 20, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Peter,
Are you saying that the property tax revenues received are actually allocated by the state to specific entities, i.e. the state actually designates how much of the property taxes are to go to the Menlo Park School District and how much is to go to the Fire District? What about how those funds are then used by the separate entities. Can the school district and the Fire district used the funds allocated to them as they see fit?
Thanks.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Can the school district and the Fire district used the funds allocated to them as they see fit?"

Yes, provided that they comply with applicable State and Federal laws.

The Fire Board determined long ago that it would operate with a balance budget that involved paying the full cost of its annual operations from its current revenue stream. A key to doing this is a firm decision not to expand the number of employees simply because revenues increase but rather to carefully control the number of employees and those employees pensionable salaries. For example paying overtime is less expensive than hiring additional employees because base salaries incur a pension liability but overhead payments do not increase the District's pension liabilities. The Fire District also charges itself more each year than CalPERS is currently charging the District for its pensions and the District reserves the difference for the inevitable day when CalPERS demand


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

continued - when CalPERS demands more money for pension liabilities that were incurred in prior years. The Fire District also charges itself every year for the "cost" of the capital equipment and buildings that it uses so that funds are available when replacement fire engines and replacement fire stations are needed.

Such budget discipline is hard work but it pays off with a a budget and properly funded reserves - and no parcel tax.


Like this comment
Posted by JBCHAM
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Peter,
Thank you for your explanation.


6 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm

George Fisher is a registered user.

Peter, as your article points out the enabling legislation after proposition 13 froze allocations to pre proposition percentages, not proposition 13. Proposition 1 A in 2004, and Proposition 22 in 2010 allowed additional legislative allocation changes, but only with super majority votes, admittedly difficult.

Nevertheless, you confirm the most important point that in each of the last 38 years the Fire district has received a bigger percentage of the dollars distributed from increased property tax receipts than the School district. My calculations are roughly 40% more each year, allowing the fire district to become a fat cat able to pay generous salaries from property taxes only, leaving the school district struggling to find extra dollars to succeed. No question a reallocation of property taxes is needed, not sanctimonious criticism of less fortunate property tax recipients. In any event the School District parcel tax increases should be supported, which I understand you do.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George - wrong again.

"you confirm the most important point that in each of the last 38 years the Fire district has received a bigger percentage of the dollars distributed from increased property tax receipts than the School district."

First, I never stated that and
Second, it is a false statement.

The elementary school districts receive a larger percentage of the property tax dollars than does the Fire District. And that is BEFORE the forced reallocation of almost $2 million in property taxes from the Fire District to the schools via ERAF.

Web Link

And the rather small MPCSD serves a population that is about 25% as large as that served by the Fire District.

Elementary math and attention to the facts might be beneficial to an informed discussion.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The only way to combat fake news like "My calculations are roughly..." is to provide real facts:

Web Link

"REVIEW OF MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT HISTORICAL
EDUCATION REVENUE AUGMENTATION FUND (ERAF) SHIFT AND
REBATE "


9 people like this
Posted by Analogous?
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Jan 20, 2017 at 6:03 pm

"MPCSD serves a population that is about 25% as large as that served by the Fire District."

Interesting statement....

1) What population groups are you comparing here? Is this ALL residents within the Menlo Fire Special District boundary VS all residents within the MPCSD Special District boundary? If your answer is yes, then you're asserting that the population within MPCSD is about 22,500 (90,000/4, 90k coming from the Menlo Fire home webpage). Where did you get this population estimate? I don't see a comparable metric on the MPCSD site.

That said, I realize that MPFD covers Belle Haven and EPA whereas MPCSD does not, so certainly I'd expect MPFD to have a higher population. But I'm surprised it's 4x larger.


2) I respectfully submit that, even if MPFD serves a larger population, one of the drivers on cost is *demand* for service: how many Menlo Fire residents demand service ("I'm having a heart attack!"..."my house is on fire!"..."my cat is in a tree!") vs how many MPCSD residents demand service ("Teach my child the A,B, Cs"..."care for my child for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 8 months a year").


I'm interested in your response, but IMHO judging service requirements for MPCSD vs MPFS based on population size seems to me to be a flawed metric, and arguably a false analogy.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Where did you get this population estimate? I don't see a comparable metric on the MPCSD site."


Correct - nowhere does MPCSD state the size of the population that they serve.

There are 7917 parcels in the MPCSD.

Given that some of those are commercial properties with no residents and assuming an average of 3-4 persons per residential parcel gives about 25K people.

That is my rough guess and why i stated "about 25%".

**********
"I'm interested in your response, but IMHO judging service requirements for MPCSD vs MPFS based on population size seems to me to be a flawed metric, and arguably a false analogy."

I agree - I was simply responding to George's false logic/false news.


3 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2017 at 8:45 am

George Fisher is a registered user.

Peter,

Your quote below is only based upon the town of atherton's taxes, not all san Mateo county and not including Menlo park, and very misleading. The Budget of the Fire district shows it expects to receive $39 Million in property taxes, and the School District budget shows it expects of receive only $27 Million. These are based upon San Mateo county not just Atherton, your residence.

"The elementary school districts receive a larger percentage of the property tax dollars than does the Fire District. And that is BEFORE the forced reallocation of almost $2 million in property taxes from the Fire District to the schools via ERAF.

Web Link"

I applaud all efforts to compare any property tax recipients and differences in property tax allocations, and particularly any changes that have occurred between then in the past 38 years. Freezing present allocations on what was allocated 38 years ago makes little sense, and certainly cannot be not a basis for comparison of a recipients present wealth or need based upon present circumstances.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2017 at 8:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George - The facts are:
1 - MPCSD receives a larger percentage of property taxes than does ANY OTHER entity particularly when parcel taxes, ERAF transfers and bond payments are included,

2 - The Fire District serves a much larger resident population, an even larger day time population and a much larger geographical area than does the MPCSD.


6 people like this
Posted by George Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2017 at 11:42 am

George Fisher is a registered user.

Peter, The County of San Mateo Controller’s Office Property Tax Highlights
Fiscal Year July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 is found at Web Link .

That report states, California law requires the County Controller’s Office to distribute property tax revenues in accordance with specified formulas and procedures. The tables on pages 9 through 12 show the amounts that were distributed during fiscal year 2014-15.”

The Controller’s office reports property tax distributions on the table on page 12 as follows:

“Taxing Agency Total Taxes Percent to Total

Menlo Park Fire $36,951,203 2.20%

Menlo Park Elementary $23,666,322 1.41%”

These numbers include excess ERAF, non-basic aid school deficits and Redevelopment Property Tax Fund Distributions.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2017 at 11:56 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George - You are trying to compare two agencies that serve dramatically different populations and which perform dramatically different missions.

The Fire District serves over 100,000 daytime residents.

The School District serves a small fraction of that population.

On a per capita basis the School District gets almost $1000 per capita while the Fire District gets less than $400 per capita.

The Fire District operates 24/7/365.

The School District operates 8 hrs a day for 180 days.


14 people like this
Posted by Analogous?
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2017 at 1:16 pm

"The Fire District operates 24/7/365. The School District operates 8 hrs a day for 180 days."

OK, let's continue the faulty analogies, which Peter acknowledges to his credit. But still, if they are to continue we should at least continue them to their logical conclusion...

MPCSD has to *actively* provide service 2996 times per day, 5 days a week, 6 hours per day, 8 months per year; the critical services being child care and child instruction.

The closest way to make an analogous comparison of service by MPFD would to be to prove that MPFD *actively* provides critical services at least 2996 times per day, 5 days a week, 6 hours per day, 8 months per year; the critical services being active firefighting (2996 house fires PER DAY, for example) and/or medical emergencies (2996 heart attacks PER DAY, for example).

Clearly MPFD is not putting out 2996 house fires per day, nor providing 2996 medical responses per day. Conversely, MPCSD is not at a student's home at 3am teaching them algebra just before the big test.

Can you all please stop peeing on the corners of your arguments? It is impossible to win an argument using faulty analogies.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I agree.


12 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm

George Fisher, since you appear to be genuinely nterested in how property tax is actually allocated, may I also suggest the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2012 white paper on Property Tax, weblinked below?

You may note with amusement that, in fact, all that was said in Proposition 13 about allocation was that it was to be done “according to law to the districts within the counties.”

So, yes, the Legislature simply chopped what remained of the pie into its prior proportions (in the three weeks between the Prop 13 election and the new fiscal year). And backfilled most of the losses from its General Fund, which was running a massive surplus. Their choice, both actions.

The following year, the Legislature took away 30% of the property tax allocated to the schools and handed it to the cities, counties, and special districts like MPFPD. And said it would try to backfill the schools, when it could. That was the AB 8 Split of 1979. 30% taken away! About which you never hear.

The ERAF Shift in 1992-94, about which so much is heard, took about 11% from the Fire District. Which gets about 60% of that back as a 'rebate' — for a net shift of about 4% of its property tax revenues. The cities have about 19% taken away (reduced to 7%), the county about 41% (down to 15%).

And the most amusing thing? The schools only get a sliver of this so-called Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (about $18M this year, or 1% of all property taxes in the county) — for Special Education — and the rest is used to pay the state’s debts.

And, of course, the schools will never see the 30% they lost again. Oh. Well.

Nice job, by the way, on finding the Controller’s Report! In a decade of collecting county data, I’d never come across it. My bad. Thanks!!!

Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Still Waiting
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:37 pm

It’s been a week now. Has the Fire District shared the compensation study with the Almanac? What did it say?


9 people like this
Posted by Dont Ask
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Good question since it seems strange they wouldn't say maybe, couldn't find it.

Ditto did they look at the wages website and say yes or no its all correct?

Overtime was 3.6 million but state was only 500,000, so only a dent in why so much overtime.


3 people like this
Posted by Busy Signal
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 26, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Probably too busy telling the school district how to negotiate their labor contracts.

And, they're closed on Fridays.


5 people like this
Posted by While We Are At It
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 6:37 pm

I have some more questions. Don’t Redwood City and Palo Alto have to allocate their property taxes between fire and police and other things? How much do they pay their firefighters and how does that compare with Menlo Park?


4 people like this
Posted by Still Waiting
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:03 am

Here's what Ms Wood just posted on her other article...we will have to continue to follow both to get answers! Thank you Ms Wood...seems like the Fire Department is not complying with community requests, thank you for doing so.

I have again requested the compensation study, but have not yet received a response. You can see the salaries of firefighters in other cities at TransparentCalifornia and PublicPay.gov. Here's a link to Palo Alto fire department: Web Link
Here's a link to Redwood City - Web Link
Here's San Francisco Web Link

Here's San Jose

Web Link

And just for an interesting comparison, here's New York City's own website on possible firefighter salaries, including overtime:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Any update?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 21, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Very curious to know what the final compensation was for 2016, especially overtime.

Earning over $300K per year puts Menlo Park's firefighters in the top 1% of earners in the entire country, of any job. That's some serious dough.

Accountability please.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 16, 2017 at 9:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

News Flash - The Almanac is going to run another story on firefighters' compensation this week.

Anybody else think that sensationalism is taking over from actually reporting the news?


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 16, 2017 at 9:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The current MOU was, after almost 6 years without either a labor agreement or any salary increases, the result of a fair negotiation between the District and the firefighters. I do not accept the simplistic and illegal assumption that salaries can be unilaterally imposed by management.”

“ I firmly believe in paying a few highly skilled and experienced professionals what they are worth than the false economy of paying more people a lower salary”


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 17, 2017 at 9:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Very curious to know what the final compensation was for 2016, especially overtime."

Connecting the dots.

This article is on the Fire District's 2015 compensation - which included a lot of overtime, much of which was the result of the District's self imposed hiring freeze and the induced staff shortages.

Another article in the Almanac is on the Fire District's accelerated hiring to fill the gaps in staffing created by the District's self imposed hiring freeze during the economic downturn.

Hopefully in tomorrow's Almanac article on the District's 2016 compensation someone will connect the dots between the hiring freeze, staff shortages, 2016 overtime and the District recent accelerated hirings.

Here is the District's 2016 compensation report:

Web Link

I am sure that most readers can connect the dots.


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

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