Cities near joint fire district deal 

San Carlos and Belmont both agree that they’re better served by a joint Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, but the history of the embattled department makes that relationship a strained one.

Although unanimously approved by the San Carlos City Council, the formula to provide funding for the department still needed approval from the Belmont Fire Protection District directors. At press time Tuesday night, no decision had been made by the Belmont City Council, although all those in attendance at the Belmont meeting were in favor of maintaining the union.

"We’re a lot better together than we are apart," Belmont-San Carlos Fire Chief Doug Fry said. "It would have done significant damage to the organization if we would have had to dissolve and separate."

Any agreement still needs to be formally amended by resolutions from both cities, but Fry said the approval will allow him to begin running background checks on officers to fill four vacancies.

"I did not want to be in a position to need to deal with layoffs," Fry said. "I wanted to make sure that, funding-wise, we would be in a position where we were ready to operate."

Under the amended agreement, the two cities will begin funding the $12 million agency based on a formula that takes into account population, number of calls generated, assessed value of homes and number of fire crews in each city. San Carlos will pay approximately 52 percent while Belmont will pay approximately 47 percent of the budget.

That formula will also be used to pay for any future liabilities or expenses for the department, although any liabilities still being paid will be handled on a 50/50 basis.

Both cities are concerned about future funds for the department, and Belmont Mayor Coralin Feierbach said that internal audits to identify unnecessary expenditures can also give the city credibility if seeking voter approval for future tax assessments.

San Carlos Councilman Bob Grassilli said that although the department needs the money, a third attempt by the San Carlos council to ask voters to approve a tax increase would likely be a final strike, not a charm. Instead, Grassilli said, San Carlos is going to work on increasing the amount of money collecting in fees and work on internal audits to locate possible cost-saving areas.

He’s also concerned that although the split is close to the original 50/50 division, future growth could tip the scales dramatically.

"San Carlos could become a growth city, and in long run that could be a wild card," Grassilli said. "If we, all of a sudden, start to develop on our side, our portion could go up substantially."

jgoldman@examiner.com

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