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Atherton council, Menlo fire board members to explore future ties

Original post made on Jan 24, 2019

Talks are ahead to find a compromise over a disparity that has Atherton property owners paying the Menlo Park Fire Protection District millions more in property tax revenue than they pay the town of Athertoto fund its own operations.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 24, 2019, 4:09 PM

Comments (15)

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 24, 2019 at 4:35 pm

Brian is a registered user.

With a new board in place and the one board member who exacerbated the issue with Atherton so badly gone, one can hope that this can be resolved and the new board will work with the town to rectify the imbalance of payments to the services they are receiving.


Posted by Con is on
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2019 at 5:06 pm

The Fire board should not fall for this trick. As the Lempres comments allude to, the council wants to try to con the fire board into paying for a chunk of the Civic Center that Atherton cannot afford. Since the threat of devtachment is not credible – Atherton has no realistic alternative – it would be silly to fall for this ploy.


Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 24, 2019 at 6:39 pm

Technically the Town cannot "detach" from the Fire District since the "Town is not part of its governance. The District encompasses the boundaries of Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and unincorporated portions of the County.

The Town can no more detach than can either of the other two cities. Menlo Fire District is exactly the same as Woodside Fire and its relationship to the areas of Woodside, Portola Valley and parts of unincorporated county.

This is not a new ploy by the Town; they play this record every so often. I agree with "Con"....don't fall for this ploy.


Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2019 at 8:50 pm

Fire board should not meet or negotiate until the Atherton Council agrees to drop the crazy idea of detachment from the fire district. After that is decided, then everyone on both sides can work as a team.

I agree with Bob and The Con On:

Don’t trust the Atherton Council.....they need to get their own house in order.....build that Civic Center and maybe that police department should go to the county sheriff. Police protection must be a very large part of their overall budget.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2019 at 9:14 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"paying for a chunk of the Civic Center that Atherton cannot afford"

Oh, they can certainly afford it. They refuse to pay for it. Two different things.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2019 at 11:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Hopefully the Town Council will provide the subcommittee identical studies that address the following far more important “financial equity issues”:

1 - the taxes paid by Atherton residents to the Federal government vs the expenditures by the Federal government within the Town boundaries,

2 - the taxes paid by Atherton residents to the State government vs the expenditures by the State government within the Town boundaries,

3 - the taxes paid by Atherton residents to the County government vs the expenditures by the County government within the Town boundaries and, in particular, the County expenditures for public safety within the Town boundaries given Atherton’s own expenditures for its excellent Police Department,

4 - the taxes paid by Atherton residents to the school districts vs the expenditures by the school districts within the Town boundaries particularly in light of the low percentage of Atherton students who actually attend those school districts.

In each of the above cases I think the facts will show that Atherton residents pay far more in taxes than they receive in services.


Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 25, 2019 at 12:25 am

To determine the extent of the financial inequality with those other entities perhaps additional studies should be made, versus singularly focusing on the Fire District. Add to the list the taxes paid vs. services received from the Hospital District, the Mosquito District and a host of others. As Hilary said “it takes a Village”. Also, as they say,Together we stand, separate we fall.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2019 at 12:40 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Let’s recognize the Town Council’s demands to the Fire District for what they are:

Take from the poor to give to the very rich.


Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 25, 2019 at 8:35 am

Brian is a registered user.

Peter,

The council has a responsibility for the tax payers to get a good value for their tax dollars. If they are paying for a lot more than they are getting is that fair to the tax payers? It is not and it is the responsibility of the elected officials to help correct that. Maybe they should hold a vote and see if the residents of Atherton are OK with paying more for the service than they get from it. After all not all of the money is going to provide services, look at how much property was purchased, and is not currently needed, under your tenure.

The fire district is not Robin Hood.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2019 at 8:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Brian - You clearly do not understand the roles and responsibilities of the Town Council. They were elected, or as is now the case all are appointed, to oversee the functioning of the Town of Atherton. Nowhere in the Town Charter is the Council given the responsibility to oversee other units of government.

We have elected officials in all the other units of government, Federal, State, County, School dIstricts and Special Districts, that were elected to oversee those functions. In each of these case the voters of Atherton selected their representatives to ensure that their tax dollars are being properly spent.

Sadly the Town Council has already squandered over $100k of the taxpayers' money on this misguided effort only to be told that they really don't have any way to get any of the Fire District's money unless the Fire Board agrees to give it to them. And in that case all the District constituents must first vote to approve such a transfer. Why exactly would Menlo Park and East Palo Alto voters support giving money to the wealthy Town of Atherton when doing so would mean a reduction in their level of fire services? I also doubt that more than a handful of Atherton residents, who are much more aware of the moral outrage of such an action than the current appointed Council, would support such a transfer.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is a huge error in this reporting which states that “property tax revenues that the town hands over to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District in return for emergency response services and how much it actually costs the district to provide those services.”

In fact the Town pays zero for fire services and property tax distribution is done by the County not the Town.


Posted by Renee Batti
editor of The Almanac
on Jan 26, 2019 at 6:18 pm

Renee Batti is a registered user.

Peter is correct: Atherton property owners, not the town, pay the taxes whose revenues are distributed to the fire district and other public agencies. The county distributes those funds based on a formula determined by the state.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 26, 2019 at 8:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

When the Almanac and its reporters are so poorly informed about the structure of the property tax system it is no wonder that the Town Council believes "the disparity between the fixed percentage of property tax revenues that the town hands over to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District in return for emergency response services and how much it actually costs the district to provide those services."

Even after this error was brought to the attention of the Editor the sub-headline and story remain unchanged.

The only thing worse than fake news is news reporting that is wrong and knowingly wrong.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2019 at 4:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It turns out that the Town of Atherton has NEVER ASKED the Federal or the State or the County or the school districts how much they have collected in taxes from Atherton residents NOR HAVE THEY EVER ASKED the Federal or the State or the County or the school districts how much those entities spend within the Town’s boundaries.

By my estimate each of those government entities receives far more in taxes from Atherton residents than they spend within the Town boundaries and the net difference for each is far greater than that between the taxes paid to the Fire District and the Matrix study's estimate of the cost of Fire District services provided to Atherton residents.

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

On Jan 31, 2019, at 2:47 PM, Theresa DellaSanta <[email protected]> wrote:
Subject: Request for public information re Federal government

Hi Peter,

This message is in response to your Public Records Act request dated January 25, 2019.

After a reasonable and diligent search the Town is unable to locate any documents responsive to this request because no such records exist.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Theresa N. DellaSanta
Deputy City Manager/City Clerk
650-752-0529


Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 2, 2019 at 3:22 pm

In addition to Peter's points regarding the structure of property taxes, I would add that this article presents the decision to detach as a straightforward process that the town could unilaterally pursue. This really misrepresents the process that the town would have to navigate in order to accomplish detachment.

Contrary to what somebody wrote above, the town most certainly could initiate an application to the San Mateo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) requesting detachment as provided in state gov code 56650 with a town resolution. But prior to LAFCo reviewing the application, they LAFCo executive officer would have to provide a certificate of filing that all of the submittal requirements have been satisfied. Amongst other litany requirements detailing how the town would provide its own service, it must have complete the negotiation over how much of the property tax revenue would actually revert to the town as provided in Revenue and Taxation Code chapter 99.

Specifically, from Tax&Revenue Code 99:
(5) In the event that a jurisdictional change would affect the service area or service responsibility of one or more special districts, the board of supervisors of the county or counties in which the districts are located shall, on behalf of the district or districts, negotiate any exchange of property tax revenues. Prior to entering into negotiation on behalf of a district for the exchange of property tax revenue, the board shall consult with the affected district. The consultation shall include, at a minimum, notification to each member and executive officer of the district board of the pending consultation and provision of adequate opportunity to comment on the negotiation.
(6) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the executive officer shall not issue a certificate of filing pursuant to Section 56658 of the Government Code until the local agencies included in the property tax revenue exchange negotiation, within the negotiation period, present resolutions adopted by each such county and city whereby each county and city agrees to accept the exchange of property tax revenues.

It is most definitely not automatically presumed that the city would end up with whatever request it was making for a share of the property tax revenue. But rather as stated it would be conducted as a negotiation with the county acting as the fire district's representative after full consulation with the fire district about the impact on its services. The SM county supervisors would have to sign off on the results of that negotiation acting as representatives for the fire district.

Assuming that some kind of agreement was reached between the town and the county, perhaps notwithstanding the fire district board's objections, the application would then ultimately be adjudicated by the 7 member LAFCo board (currently comprised of county reps Don Horsley & Warren Slocum, special district reps Joe Sheridan (sheriff dept) & Joshua Cosgrove (north coast water district), city reps Mike O'Neill (Pacifica) & Rich Garbarino (S. San Francisco), public rep Ann Draper).

The Contra Costa LAFCo board nicely summarized the decision making process:
• Any application to detach territory must include a plan to provide services (§56653). An evaluation of a local agency’s plan of service is necessary for consideration of any change of organization or reorganization (§56375) that expands or diminishes a service provider’s responsibilities. The intent of service plans is to ensure that the capacity, cost and adequacy of services within the district or city are not adversely impacted by the proposed LAFCO action. In other words, LAFCO must consider whether the agency proposing to assume the services can feasibly provide the services. Further, LAFCO must consider the effects of the proposed detachment on both the agency gaining territory/service and the agency losing territory/service. The Commission must consider 15 different factors when reviewing a change of organization of reorganization (§56668); no one factor is determinative.

Although that LAFCo board points out that no one factor is determinitive, there are at least three especially relevant factors in that decision criteria list set out in that govt code:
(c) 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.
(j) The comments of any affected local agency or other public agency.
(p) The extent to which the proposal will promote environmental justice.  As used in this subdivision, “environmental justice” means the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the location of public facilities and the provision of public services.

So the LAFCo decision is not capricious and is required to be grounded in consideration of how that decision is going to affect everybody involved. Most particularly, I see item (p) being a stumbling block for the town. Lives are on the line, and presumably the fire district's point is going to be that giving up the property tax attributed to the town's boundary's is going to result in unacceptable service delivery times to those most vulnerable in less affluent areas.

And then there are the political realities. Atherton may think Don Horsely would support the town's position because Atherton happens to be in his district, but allowing Atherton to simply detach would set a terrible precedent for the entirety of his district. Does he really want to have Woodside considering withdrawing from the Woodside Fire protection district because of economic considerations?


Anyhoo, I could say a lot more, but my point is that imho detachment with economic benefit to the town is rather far fetched. And it's most certainly not a unilateral decision that the town can simply "declare".



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