Moving ahead with a project that has provoked the ire of Menlo Park Fire Protection District officials, Atherton has asked consultants to submit proposals for a fiscal study of fire services in the town. The study will examine, among other things, how much it would cost the town to provide its own fire and emergency services.
The description of the scope of work requested by a consultant says the town's "over-arching question" is whether its property values have "increased to the point that the funds received by the Fire District via property taxes far exceed the cost to provide basic fire services to the community?"
Last October, when the Atherton City Council unanimously authorized going forward with the study, fire board member (and now board president) Peter Carpenter ripped into the town.
Speaking at a fire board meeting on Oct. 18, Mr. Carpenter said: "This is a blatant attempt by the town of Atherton to take property taxes which have been paid by the citizens of the fire district and appropriate those funds to the town of Atherton."
He said the town has no legal jurisdiction to do the study and accused Atherton of wanting to "rob the resources" of East Palo Alto residents "in order to enrich the town of Atherton."
The "request for proposals," commonly called an RFP, posted by the town on Feb. 27 asks for exactly what the council authorized in October, a "fiscal review of fire services" with three components:
• Double-checking figures received from the fire district about the amount of property tax revenues and fees that go from Atherton property owners to the fire district, plus a forecast of what those amounts will be in the future.
• Figuring out how much it costs the district to provide fire and other emergency services to Atherton residents.
• Looking at what it would cost the town to get those same services from somewhere other than the fire district, including the cost of building a second fire station in the town if needed.
Atherton City Manager George Rodericks had originally suggested a fourth component to the study, exploring what steps would be needed for the town to separate from the fire district. At the time, City Attorney Bill Conners said that item could easily be added on to a contract if the town later wanted the information.
The consultants' bids are due back by March 31. A recommendation on which consultant should be awarded the contract is scheduled to go to the City Council on April 19.
Fire district Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the district is "an independent, single focused, special district" that is not "governed, or accountable to" Atherton or its City Council, but to its own elected fire board.
"The Fire District sees itself as one entity, comprised of multiple jurisdictions," he said. "Essential emergency services are provided by the closest fire station and available emergency unit, not by jurisdictional boundaries."