2/25/2012 -- County, cities consider fire consolidation
By Michelle Durand
San Mateo Daily Journal
Redwood City, CA -- San Mateo County, San Carlos and Redwood City could
collectively save millions of dollars and provide more efficient fire service by
consolidating three overlapping stations and rethinking how they are equipped, according
to initial reports and ongoing discussions with the stakeholders.
The San Carlos City Council on Monday night will discuss the possibility of shared
service opportunities which Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said is really a
reiteration by the current members to continue strategic plans by the prior council.
A large basis of the discussions between the cities and the county is a 2010 report by
TriData commissioned when San Carlos was looking for a new fire partner following the
dissolution of its joint department with Belmont. TriData suggested looking at Redwood
City Station 12 near the San Carlos border, county Station 18 on Edmonds Road near
Crestview Drive and Station 16 on Alameda de las Pulgas. Each station only averages
one to two service calls per day and collectively costs their respective cities or county
$7.5 million per year.
At the time, Redwood City Fire Chief Jim Skinner and San Carlos officials agreed their
hybrid department was the priority but the council also agreed to an annual review of the
department and future opportunities. Now is that time.
During his State of the City address Thursday night, Mayor Andy Klein cited greater
government efficiency as a key to a sustainable budget and called out further fire
consolidation as a primary opportunity.
In the last few weeks, the city managers and Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen have
been meeting and showed interest in consolidation, Moura said.
Another consideration in those talks is what the new stations might look like — how
many firefighters from each agency? Engines, trucks or light-duty vehicles? Improve the
existing stations or start from scratch with a modern facility?
Moura thinks consolidation might not stop there.
“Who knows? This discussion in San Carlos coupled with the work the county is doing
might trigger some discussions with other cities,” Moura said.
Supervisor Don Horsley is excited by the idea of consolidation and cites it as preferable
to a fire fee or tax to close the county’s own $1 million to $2 million deficit for Cal Fire
“It’s a better way to go instead of asking people to fork up more money,” he said.
Station 18 in particular is on his radar.
“Unless someone can show me a diminution of services, I think in the long run this is a
model of the way to go with municipalities,” Horsley said.
Supervisor Adrienne Tissier is also a fan of the discussions and thinks they may be a way
to revisit the idea of a consolidated department with multiple cities.
“They could certainly lead back into that,” she said.
Tissier and Supervisor Carole Groom urged such a move last year when San Carlos
approached them about subcontracting fire service but the suggestion fizzled and now
San Mateo Fire Chief Dan Belville — a proponent of shared services — is retiring.
Currently, the county contracts with Cal Fire to protect the unincorporated areas like the
Highlands which taxes itself to receive an enhanced level of service. The existing $65 tax
is coming up for a four-year renewal which the Board of Supervisors will on Tuesday
consider putting on the ballot.
A tax has been in place since 1982 and set at $65 per parcel since 1996. The tax generates
about $92,000 annually.