The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house at 2110 Valparaiso Ave., next door to the district's Alameda de las Pulgas fire station, had been listed for lease at $6,000 per month when the district began negotiating for its purchase.
Chief Schapelhouman said each of the employees interested in the property has said they would move to the home, which is in the Las Lomitas School District, with their family.
Under the chief's plan, by paying the rent on the home with pre-tax dollars, the employee would not pay taxes on $36,000 in income per year. The amount paid by the district and the employee toward his pension would also be reduced.
The chief told the board that he had based the $3,000 rent on the rental costs where the employees are currently living.
The chief said having a district employee living in the home would allow that employee to "provide additional services to the district, to the community ... which they would not be able to do if they lived further away."
But board members said they wanted a lot more information before endorsing the plan.
"I don't think we have the information to make that decision," said board member Virginia Chang-Kiraly. She said district residents have told her they want the house to be rented at fair market value.
Fire board President Chuck Bernstein said he would like to see the property rented to an employee at a percentage of fair market value. Mr. Bernstein said if the home were rented to someone other than a district employee, "about half of (the rent) would go to property taxes."
That prompted an angry response from Ms. Chang-Kiraly. "Those (property) taxes go to the Las Lomitas School District," she said. "For us to even think about cheating a school district out of property taxes stinks, in my opinion."
She asked for more information on the property tax issue and on the fair market value of the rental "so we make an unbiased decision," she said. The public, she said "is entitled to know what they're giving up."
Board member Rob Silano said he would like to see one of the district's homes reserved as a residence for a possible future chief. Chief Schapelhouman confirmed he is not interested in living in the home. The other home, Mr. Silano said, should be used as a "bunkhouse" for firefighters who need a place to sleep between shifts.
Mr. Schapelhouman said the land on which the Valparaiso Avenue house is located is needed for the district to build a larger station. That construction is at least three to five years in the future, he said.
The agenda said the board would also discuss another request by the chief to permit him to continue allowing other district employees to stay less than full time at other district-owned properties at no cost, but the topic was not discussed.
A fire training captain has been staying in the Atherton house the district purchased last year for $4.6 million three nights a week "to eliminate his commute," a report from the chief says.
"Similar arrangements and incidental overnight uses have occurred for many years," the report says.
In August, fire board members said they wanted the Atherton home to be rented on the open market. In September, Chief Schapelhouman returned with a report saying that it could cost up to $500,000 to make the house suitable for rental. That report was referred to the district's Finance Committee. Although the matter has not returned to the board to change its original decision, the chief reported the home is now being used for temporary housing for district employees.
The board in December approved spending up to $500,000 in making improvements to the Atherton property.
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