Mergers explored to save on San Carlos, Burlingame fire service costs 

A new wave of fire department mergers is under way, with both San Carlos and Burlingame meeting Monday to discuss possible consolidation with surrounding cities.

In a special study session, San Carlos will consider four fire department proposals, one of which includes a possible merger with Redwood City. Burlingame, at a separate meeting, will decide whether to participate in the Central County Fire Department’s service extension to Millbrae and San Bruno.

San Carlos began searching for cheaper firefighting options after its 32-year union with Belmont was severed; the Belmont San Carlos Fire Department is currently set to end in October. Other options include San Carlos forming its own department, a contract with the private Wackenhut Services Inc. and keeping the current arrangement with Belmont. City Manager Jeff Maltbie said city officials will take each proposal into consideration before making a decision.

Though the details of the proposal to link services with San Carlos are still being refined, Redwood City hopes to annually save about $1 million to $1.5 million with the proposed deal, Redwood City spokesman Malcolm Smith said.

“This is a natural progression of what cities need to do to keep services ... while cutting costs,” Smith said. “Money is the crucial driving factor, but services are equally important.”

Elsewhere in the county, San Bruno and Millbrae have agreed to join the Central County Fire Department, which provides services to Burlingame and Hillsborough. The option of pursuing Central County began in 2007, San Bruno fire Chief Dennis Haag said.

“We’re at the tail end,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

At Millbrae’s City Council meeting last Monday, Haag presented the proposed cost-share formula for the merger, demonstrating a three-way split between San Bruno, Millbrae and Central County. According to the report, Central County would contribute 50 percent while Millbrae supplied 20 percent and San Bruno 30.

“The purpose of the presentation was to show that the cost formula was going to work for all cities,” Haag said.

Cost savings from the merger will result in part from the closure of two stations in the Millbrae and Burlingame hills, and the construction of a single station to replace them, according to a report from Burlingame fire Chief Don Dornell.

Burning off expenses

Potential savings from Central County Fire Department expansion based on 2010-11 budget:

$3.4M: Central County Fire Department (Burlingame and Hillsborough):
$230,000: San Bruno
$375,000: Millbrae

Proposed cost distribution for merged Central County Fire Department:

50%: Burlingame, Hillsborough
30%: San Bruno 20%: Millbrae

Sources: Burlingame, San Bruno fire officials

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