Joint fire services’ future looks bright 

In back-to-back unanimous approvals, San Carlos and Belmont officials have given their support to a new funding agreement for shared fire services.

The votes on Monday and Tuesday this week by the respective city councils mean the end of another period of uncertainty for the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, which for the second time in recent years found itself facing the threat of dissolution due to a dispute over finances.

The new funding formula calls for Belmont to pay 47.7 percent of the $12 million department budget and San Carlos, which has more homes and businesses, 52.3 percent. Belmont officials said the previous funding arrangement, in which the cities split costs 50-50, was unfair, and threatened to leave the partnership if it was not changed.

Fire Chief Doug Fry said that with agreement on the new formula, he could begin staffing empty positions and return the department to some semblance of full operations.

"There are still some issues to work out, but we’re close," Fry said. "We won’t make any job offers right now, but we can start the hiring process."

The department has suffered from lack of funding for years and has at various points resorted to layoffs and engine "brownouts" to maintain operations. Officials have said they will probably make a third try at getting a fire tax or assessment passed to help support the department, despite two previous failed efforts.

San Carlos Councilman Bob Grassilli, who sits on the joint fire board, said that he expects the amended agreement between the two cities to return for final council approvals by March.

Although both sides have agreed on the new formula, if there are any further disagreements in the partnership, Belmont Mayor Coralin Feierbach said there is still the possibility that the partnership will be severed.

"I’m so tired of this debate," Feierbach said. "One more iteration — as far as I’m concerned — and that’s it."

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