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.
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.
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."