A study of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District commissioned by Atherton shows that the district spends less than half the property tax revenues it receives from Atherton property owners providing services in the town.
The Matrix Consulting study, which will be reviewed by the City Council when it meets on Wednesday, Jan. 17, was released on Jan. 11. It shows that the district receives an annual operating subsidy from Atherton property owners of more than $7 million in tax revenue.
The study, which the town has emphasized was not looking at the quality of service provided by the fire district, investigated how much the district spends providing services to Atherton and how much it receives in property tax revenue from Atherton residents.
It also looked at what it might cost for the town to contract out its fire services or form its own municipal fire department.
A letter that the city manager proposes be sent to Atherton residents about the study, which is included as part of the Jan. 17 meeting materials, notes that the town "believes that the District provides Atherton residents with exceptional service."
The Matrix study shows in the 2015-16 fiscal year, Atherton, which has 8 percent of the residents in the fire district, provided 31.7 percent of the fire district's total property tax revenues. That year Atherton property owners provided $11.8 million in property tax revenue to the fire district. In comparison, Atherton received only $7.5 million of property tax revenue from its property owners that year, the study shows.
The study also says that in 2016-17, the fire district spent $4.6 million providing fire services to the town, or more than $7 million less than its property tax revenues from the town.
To come up with the spending figure, Matrix looked at the district's computer-aided dispatch records, which show the geographic location of responses and time spent on them. Those records show that responses to Atherton accounted for 9.6 percent of the district's time spent on emergency calls in 2016.
The consultants then went through the district's 2016-17 operational budget and in most cases applied either that factor, or actual costs if known, to come up with a cost of providing service in Atherton. They also added in $550,000 in capital investment costs (an allocation of the district's annual spending on equipment and other capital costs).
The study also says that if the town were to have its own fire department it would probably cost $6.8 million a year.
The study assumed the town would have two fire stations and automatic aid agreements with nearby fire agencies, including the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. It would equip the stations with an engine and a combination ladder truck and pumper, each staffed with at least three people. The administration would include a fire chief, deputy chief in charge of fire prevention and an administrative assistant.
Contracting with another fire department would cost it $7.4 million annually, the report estimates, using as its basis a contract between San Carlos and the Redwood City Fire Department.
The start-up costs for a municipal fire department would be steep, the report says: $14.2 million. But City Manager George Rodericks says those costs could be less depending on what arrangements were worked out with the fire district for taking over its existing Atherton station and apparatus.
Wednesday's City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the town's council chambers, 94 Ashfield Road.
The council will review the report and provide town staff with feedback about what the next steps should be, which could include further investigation of the town's separation from the fire district.
In addition to a letter, City Manager George Rodericks has recommended that the town send a two-page summary of the report to all Atherton residents, inviting them to comment at the Council's Feb. 21 meeting about what they'd like to see happen next.
Fire district officials were invited to comment about the study for this story, but said they need more time to review it.
• See a recent story about the fire district: Year in Review: Fire district fights fires and controversies