News

Menlo fire board has no official comment on fiscal study

Fire board opts to wait to see what Atherton's next move is

The board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has decided to remain mum, at least officially, on the report of the fire district's finances commissioned by the town of Atherton.

At a meeting on Feb. 20, board members voted unanimously to "table the item" of the report done for the town by Matrix Consulting Group. The report concluded that about $7 million more in property tax revenues flow annually from within the town to the fire district than the district spends providing services within Atherton's boundaries.

The board was following the recommendation of the its Finance Committee, made up of board President Chuck Bernstein and board member Peter Carpenter, plus Tom Prussing of Atherton. The committee had discussed the report at its Feb. 6 meeting.

The fire board held a short discussion about Atherton's fiscal report after board member Rob Silano pulled it from the consent calendar. Consent calendars are generally reserved for routine matters which the governing body can approve in a batch without discussion. Except for several reports and a discussion of what should be on the next meeting's agenda, every other item on the Feb. 20 fire board agenda was on the consent calendar.

"I think we should have a board discussion about (the Matrix report)," Mr. Silano said. "I think this is a very important discussion item that all of us should have input in."

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Board president Bernstein said the Finance Committee had concluded that because the Atherton City Council had not yet decided what it would do with the report, it was "premature to do anything at this time."

An Atherton council meeting to discuss the report was scheduled for the night after the fire board meeting, on Feb. 21. (See story on that meeting here.)

Mr. Carpenter quickly moved to table the item, which led board member Robert Jones to ask, "At what point ... are we going to have a discussion on this particular document?"

"It may be moot," Mr. Carpenter said. "If (Atherton's council) decides it doesn't want to do anything, then we move on."

Mr. Silano said he still has "a considerable number of questions" about the report, but added he was willing "to table it until we find out what the citizens want."

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Although the fire board voted not to officially respond to Atherton's report, Mr. Carpenter has posted numerous comments about it on the Almanac's Town Square forum, including one comment posted by him at 8:54 p.m., in the midst of the Feb. 20 board meeting.

Adding firefighters

The board also unanimously approved allowing the district to hire three more firefighters than had been budgeted for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

In December Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman asked the board to approve more than $3 million of additional spending this fiscal year, much of which he said is necessary as the fire district experiences "unparalleled transformation in the form of new construction, population growth, worsening traffic congestion, peak commute gridlock, (and) roadway reductions."

He said the district is "essentially bifurcated Monday through Friday" from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and has experienced more emergency calls that it has more difficulty getting to.

The chief had earlier indicated that hiring the additional firefighters would have a six-month cost of $234,200.

Several other mid-year personnel requests made by the chief will be the subject of a March study session.

Housing priorities

An agenda item regarding the district's priorities for housing its employees in residential properties owned by district was unanimously approved by the board with no discussion as part of the consent calendar.

The fire district has purchased several residential properties in recent years, including a $4.6 million three-bedroom, two-bath home in Atherton on property that the district says it will not need for at least a decade. The district is currently negotiating to buy another house in unincorporated Menlo Park, near its Alameda de las Pulgas fire station.

A report from Chief Schapelhouman said the fire district "now finds itself in the unique and strategic position to offer housing options to employees who may wish to live in the Fire District."

The approved priorities for district employees to live in district-owned housing, in order of priority, are: fire chief, deputy chief, division chief, battalion chief, fire marshal, deputy fire marshal, staff captain, truck captains, engine captains, fire inspector/investigators, emergency manager, fleet mechanics, EMS coordinator, US&R program manager, other manager positions.

The report says allowing the employees to live in the district housing "benefits emergency operations, secondary response, meeting attendance, attendance at community events and can also serve as an external recruiting enhancement."

Elsewhere in the board meeting materials, the chief reported that a district employee, a fire training captain, is already living in the Atherton house.

Board members had indicated last year that they were interested in renting the home at market rate, but the chief said remodeling it to do that would cost as much as $330,000. At that time board members said they thought the house could rent for $8,000 to $10,000 a month.

As part of another agenda item, the board approved looking into adding a secondary residential unit of up to 1,200 square feet to the Atherton lot. Mr. Carpenter had recommended that the district try to "maximize the value of the asset we hold."

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Menlo fire board has no official comment on fiscal study

Fire board opts to wait to see what Atherton's next move is

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Feb 22, 2018, 11:17 am

The board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has decided to remain mum, at least officially, on the report of the fire district's finances commissioned by the town of Atherton.

At a meeting on Feb. 20, board members voted unanimously to "table the item" of the report done for the town by Matrix Consulting Group. The report concluded that about $7 million more in property tax revenues flow annually from within the town to the fire district than the district spends providing services within Atherton's boundaries.

The board was following the recommendation of the its Finance Committee, made up of board President Chuck Bernstein and board member Peter Carpenter, plus Tom Prussing of Atherton. The committee had discussed the report at its Feb. 6 meeting.

The fire board held a short discussion about Atherton's fiscal report after board member Rob Silano pulled it from the consent calendar. Consent calendars are generally reserved for routine matters which the governing body can approve in a batch without discussion. Except for several reports and a discussion of what should be on the next meeting's agenda, every other item on the Feb. 20 fire board agenda was on the consent calendar.

"I think we should have a board discussion about (the Matrix report)," Mr. Silano said. "I think this is a very important discussion item that all of us should have input in."

Board president Bernstein said the Finance Committee had concluded that because the Atherton City Council had not yet decided what it would do with the report, it was "premature to do anything at this time."

An Atherton council meeting to discuss the report was scheduled for the night after the fire board meeting, on Feb. 21. (See story on that meeting here.)

Mr. Carpenter quickly moved to table the item, which led board member Robert Jones to ask, "At what point ... are we going to have a discussion on this particular document?"

"It may be moot," Mr. Carpenter said. "If (Atherton's council) decides it doesn't want to do anything, then we move on."

Mr. Silano said he still has "a considerable number of questions" about the report, but added he was willing "to table it until we find out what the citizens want."

Although the fire board voted not to officially respond to Atherton's report, Mr. Carpenter has posted numerous comments about it on the Almanac's Town Square forum, including one comment posted by him at 8:54 p.m., in the midst of the Feb. 20 board meeting.

Adding firefighters

The board also unanimously approved allowing the district to hire three more firefighters than had been budgeted for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

In December Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman asked the board to approve more than $3 million of additional spending this fiscal year, much of which he said is necessary as the fire district experiences "unparalleled transformation in the form of new construction, population growth, worsening traffic congestion, peak commute gridlock, (and) roadway reductions."

He said the district is "essentially bifurcated Monday through Friday" from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and has experienced more emergency calls that it has more difficulty getting to.

The chief had earlier indicated that hiring the additional firefighters would have a six-month cost of $234,200.

Several other mid-year personnel requests made by the chief will be the subject of a March study session.

Housing priorities

An agenda item regarding the district's priorities for housing its employees in residential properties owned by district was unanimously approved by the board with no discussion as part of the consent calendar.

The fire district has purchased several residential properties in recent years, including a $4.6 million three-bedroom, two-bath home in Atherton on property that the district says it will not need for at least a decade. The district is currently negotiating to buy another house in unincorporated Menlo Park, near its Alameda de las Pulgas fire station.

A report from Chief Schapelhouman said the fire district "now finds itself in the unique and strategic position to offer housing options to employees who may wish to live in the Fire District."

The approved priorities for district employees to live in district-owned housing, in order of priority, are: fire chief, deputy chief, division chief, battalion chief, fire marshal, deputy fire marshal, staff captain, truck captains, engine captains, fire inspector/investigators, emergency manager, fleet mechanics, EMS coordinator, US&R program manager, other manager positions.

The report says allowing the employees to live in the district housing "benefits emergency operations, secondary response, meeting attendance, attendance at community events and can also serve as an external recruiting enhancement."

Elsewhere in the board meeting materials, the chief reported that a district employee, a fire training captain, is already living in the Atherton house.

Board members had indicated last year that they were interested in renting the home at market rate, but the chief said remodeling it to do that would cost as much as $330,000. At that time board members said they thought the house could rent for $8,000 to $10,000 a month.

As part of another agenda item, the board approved looking into adding a secondary residential unit of up to 1,200 square feet to the Atherton lot. Mr. Carpenter had recommended that the district try to "maximize the value of the asset we hold."

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Comments

whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:28 pm
whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Is it time or appropriate for the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury to take a look at the goings on at the fire district?


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:07 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:07 pm

"Is it time or appropriate for the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury to take a look at the goings on at the fire district?"

I suspect they would welcome it. There isn't better managed government agency around that I can think of.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 7:32 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Feb 22, 2018 at 7:32 pm

"I suspect they would welcome it."

Absolutely!

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for FY 2016-17 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 2016-17, the
auditors noted no significant deficiencies or material weaknesses.
For the current year audit of internal control, there were no findings to report.
ATTACHMENTS
A. CAFR 2016-17 posted at
Web Link


Brian
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

I would love to see an outside audit of the MPFPD but more importantly is the cities and residents view on whether spending millions of dollars on buying properties "will not need for at least a decade" and then using them to house staff/firefighters is a good use of our tax dollars. The same can be said about the level of pay and the exorbitant over time that gets paid.

I think Atherton is on the right track. The City Council has a responsibility to their constituents to make sure they get what they pay for. Paying out an additional $7 million a year for services they are not getting is not fiscally responsible. I will encourage Menlo Park to take the same look as Atherton.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 3, 2018 at 1:37 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2018 at 1:37 pm

"The district is currently negotiating to buy another house in unincorporated Menlo Park, near its Alameda de las Pulgas fire station."

************

Fire District Purchases Property behind Fire Station 4 in the Unincorporated County Area

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District has purchased a 6000 square foot residential lot with a
1980’s single family, 2,050 square foot single story, three bed and two bath home directly behind
its oldest Fire Station located at 3322 Alameda De Las Pulgas in the Unincorporated County Area.

The residential property, located at 2110 Valparaiso Avenue was purchased for $3.2 million
dollars. The previous owners had been trying to lease the property and were the original owners
of the home. The home is located behind the existing Fire Station property which made it highly
desirable to the Fire District for future expansion needs.

Fire Station 4 was built in 1949, or 69 years ago, long before most, if any, of the current homes and surrounding area existed. The older wood building is not seismically braced and is not equipped with fire sprinklers, modern electrical wiring and plumbing. The three apparatus bay back in Fire Station can only accommodate four firefighters and two Fire Engines and a smaller cross staffed Patrol unit.

The $ 3.2 million dollar purchase is considered “strategic” by the Fire District’s Chief and Board of
Directors because the combined properties increase the land area owned by the District to
28,560 square feet which will allow the Fire District to rebuild a code compliant, safer, modern,
larger and more functional fire and emergency services facility.

The District has contemplated this property acquisition for many years, but only after a recent
study by consultants Citygate LLC, which validated that the Station location was more than adequate, did the Fire Chief propose to the Fire Board that he work with Realtor Nino Gaetano with Pacific Union Real Estate and attempt to purchase the property.

Fire Chief Schapelhouman said, “We are currently focused on finishing Fire Station 6 located in
downtown Menlo Park. We recently started programming and looking at preliminary designs for
Fire Station 1 and our Training Center on Middlefield Road. That project will be rebuilt in two
Phases, followed by the rebuilding Fire Station 4 on Alameda De Las Pulgas. Outside of a few
other smaller projects, it is currently the number two priority on the replacement list for
rebuilding Fire Stations”.

“These essential service structures are 60 and 70 years old and in serious need of replacement and
modernization. It will take us about 10 years, or more, to rebuild both of these facilities. That
requires that we continue to save and set-aside funds for the actual Stations and go through the
design, planning, permitting and public hearing process before we can rebuild a new facility”, the
Chief said.

Fire Station 4 has one of the largest and unique areas in the Fire District. 37% of its response area
is located in the Town of Atherton (upper Atherton), 44%, is in the City of Menlo Park (upper
Menlo and Sharon Heights), 18% is in the Unincorporated County Areas including West Menlo
Park, the Sequoia Tract, Stanford Weekend Acres and 1% includes the SLAC National Accelerator
and Laboratory which is on contract for Fire and Emergency Services.

Station 4 is the Fire District’s fourth busiest Station. The Engine and three person crew responded
to 1269 emergency incidents in 2017, out of 9,049 emergencies District wide for all seven Fire
Stations.

The Fire District has made several other strategic Fire Station property acquisitions in the last year
including purchasing properties next door to its main Fire Station 1 from Saint Patrick’s Seminary
located in Menlo Park and Fire Station 3 located in Atherton.

After hiring a commercial real estate agent in 2006, the Fire District realized it was far more
practical and cost effective to purchase property next to existing Fire Stations, then it would be to change locations. It was also more palatable to the community.

In 2006 and 2008 the Fire District purchased two residential properties behind its Fire Station 2 in
East Palo Alto. Once the recession was over, the homes were torn down and the area was used as
part of an overall drive through configuration needed to modernize a much larger Fire facility that
opened in 2016.

The Fire District used the same practice in 2008 when it purchased a residential lot and home
behind its Fire Station 6 located in downtown Menlo Park. The house is temporarily being used
to house the Fire Crew while the new Station is being finished and will be torn down once the
Station is completed to make way for the drive through access, secondary structures and
parking for the new building.

“Fire Station 6 wasn’t started until Station 2 was almost finished and similar to both projects,
it’s taken us about ten years to acquire property, plan, design, permit, build and finish these
projects but it wouldn’t have worked without the additional land and space” the Fire Chief
said.

Fire Station 6 is almost finished and scheduled to re-open in the next Couple months. The
house behind the Station was purchased by the District in order to expand the facility.


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