Tax hike may be only way to keep services 

Taxes paid by Colma and Broadmoor residents may need to as much as triple to maintain local fire services, according to a county report.

A Local Agency Formation Commission review of fire, police and town services in the Colma and Broadmoor areas found that the current $50 per parcel tax paid by residents within the Colma Fire Protection District should be increased to around $170 if the fire authority is to adequately serve its clients in the future.

The parcel tax last year contributed $315,379 of $842,321 in total revenues.

Formed in 1937, the district, which serves roughly 6,400 people in Colma, Broadmoor Village and unincorporated Colma, operates with 36 paid oncall staffers — professional firefighters who are called in rather than 24-hour full-time personnel. It has one fire station, built in the 1950s, that is inadequate for current uses, one ladder truck and three engines, two of which need replacing in the near future. At the moment, district officials report that some ongoing equipment needs are deferred for a lack of funding.

Growth projections by the Association of Bay Area Governments for the fire district’s service area show the district’s population increasing 22 percent to 7,775 people by 2025, according to the state-mandated review, which is conducted every five years. While the report considers options such as removing Colma from the district, contracting with other fire agencies or dissolving the district, officials said there is no indication those things will happen.

"The only distressing part, like all of government, is: We don’t have enough money," Colma fire Chief Geoffrey Balton said.

Other communities, such as Belmont and San Carlos or Hillsborough and Burlingame have banded together for fire services, but the Broadmoor-Colma community appears to be happy with their fire district, said David Jay, president of the Broadmoor Property Owners Association.

"The good thing is that when [property owners are] paying the assessment on property taxes they know that the money is going straight to the district," Jay said. "We’re not sure whether or not we’d receive the same level of service as we’re receiving now (if service was contracted to another agency)."

Although Colma and the district explored forming a joint powers authority in 2005, that option was dropped after Colma officials concluded they did not want to spend town funds on services outside town limits, the report said.

Before any recommendations are made from LAFCO at a March 21 meeting, residents of Colma and Broadmoor will have an opportunity to comment on the report. Meetings will take place next Monday in Broadmoor Village at 7 p.m., Broadmoor Community Center, 501 87th St., and next Tuesday in Colma at 7 p.m., Town Council Chambers, 1198 El Camino Real.

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