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Should Atherton look at withdrawing from fire district?

Original post made on Feb 20, 2018

Atherton's City Council wants residents to weigh in on what it should do after receiving a report that shows that the Menlo Park Fire Protection District receives about $7 million more in property tax revenue from Atherton residents than it spends in providing them services.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 12:00 AM

Comments (2)

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 20, 2018 at 11:33 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Please keep in mind that the proposal to detach from a regional fire district is unprecedented"

From: Martha Poyatos

Date: February 9, 2018 at 3:20:27 PM PST

To: Allan Epstein
Subject: RE: Atherton considering withdrawing from Menlo Park Fire District

Hi Allan;

Below I have copied and pasted your questions and include my responses:

Please explain the process for how detachment would be done.

The process for the Town of Atherton to detach from Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) and either form a stand-alone department or contract with another fire agency would start with the Town adopting a resolution of application to LAFCo to amend the MPFPD sphere of influence and detach from the District. The application would include the resolution, application, plan for providing service, indemnification form and LAFCo fees.

The basic process is:

1) Town adopts resolution of application referenced above and submits it with application, plan for providing service, indemnification and fees to San Mateo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo). The Commission has the authority to approve, approve with modifications, modify or deny applications.

2) LAFCo staff processes the application by referring it to affected county departments (assessor, elections, etc.) and agencies (Town of Atherton, MPFPD, affected cities)

3) LAFCo application triggers a letter from the Controller to the County and the Town initiating a 60 day property tax negotiation period. (Both the Board of Supervisors and Town Council must adopt property tax resolutions before LAFCo can schedule the application for hearing)

4) Once the application is deemed complete including adopted resolutions of tax exchange, LAFCo can schedule a noticed public hearing.

5) At the hearing, the Commission has the authority to approve, approve with modifications or conditions or deny the application.

6) If approved, LAFCo would be required to hold a protest hearing at which registered voters can submit written protest. If 50% or more of the voters submit protest, the detachment is terminated. If less than 25% of the registered voters in the Town submit protest, LAFCo orders the detachment. If 25% or more of the registered voters but less than 50% submit written protest, the detachment is subject to an election at which a majority of the Atherton registered voters must vote in favor of the detachment.

7) If approved by lack of protest or by majority vote at an election, LAFCo would finalize the detachment once all conditions are met. Conditions could include an executed contract with another fire agency, acquisition of station, apparatus or other actions.

Who gets to decide?

The Commission has the discretion to approve, approve with conditions or deny and must consider a set of mandated factors including:

The effect of the proposed action and of alternative actions, on adjacent areas, on mutual social and economic interests, and on the local governmental structure of the county; The ability of the newly formed or receiving entity to provide the services which are the subject of the application to the area, including the sufficiency of revenues for those services following the proposed boundary change;

Comments of affected agencies and individuals.

If approved by the Commission registered voters in the Town of Atherton have the opportunity for protest and possibly voting in an election as noted above.

How are assets and liabilities divided?

Detachment does not affect ownership of District owned assets such as stations and apparatus. LAFCo consideration in review of the proposal would include fiscal impact to MPFPD in regard to liabilities related to staff and facilities located in Atherton and loss of property tax revenue and the fiscal viability of a stand-alone department.

How does the Town receive the “fire protection” share of property taxes going forward?

The property tax transfer is a discretionary negotiation set forth in Revenue and Taxation Code. In boundary changes that involve independent special districts, the Board of Supervisors would negotiate with the Town on behalf of the special district (after providing notice to the District and providing the District opportunity to comment). In the case of a detachment, it is not clear that all of the fire district’s property tax share would be transferred to only the Town or if some would go to other agencies (school districts, health care district, county, etc.) that also overlap with MPFPD.

How long might the change take?

Without an election an estimate of the timeline is 5 to 8 months. With an election an estimate is 15 to 24 months based on election law time frames.

Please keep in mind that the proposal to detach from a regional fire district is unprecedented and in processing an actual application other issues may arise that I have not addressed here or that were not addressed in the Fire Services Fiscal Review commissioned by the Town.

Thank you for your patience in waiting for my response to your e-mail.


Martha Poyatos

Executive Officer

Peter Carpenter
Please reply to:
[email protected]

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 20, 2018 at 11:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In 2017 an independent, scientifically designed survey was conducted regarding the Fire District’s performance:
- 100% of Atherton residents who were surveyed were satisfied with the Fire District’s level of service
- 85% of Atherton residents who were surveyed gave the Fire District an approval rating of 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5
- only 14% of Atherton residents who were surveyed wanted a separate fire department for Atherton residents.

Compared to the Atherton parcel tax which failed with only 52% of the vote.

With these numbers and since a detachment proposal would lead to a protest hearing and only 25% of the voters could trigger an election and the Atherton residents are overwhelming pleased with their current fire services and nobody's property tax would go down by a penny this looks like a very good time for the Town Council to close out this saga.

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