Editorial:  It’s time to solve the Coastside’s firefighting mess

Editorial

Posted by on Mon, July 17, 2006

It’s clear to the most casual observer that the Half Moon Bay and Point Montara fire districts have been in turmoil for years.  It is far from clear to even the closest observers whose fault it is.  The good news is that we don’t need to find fault in order to solve the problem.

Disinterested Coastsiders who’ve followed the mess, the previous fire chief, and the county’s grand jury, have come to the same conclusion:  the two districts must merge and they must contract out their fire services.

The Half Moon Bay district is coming off years of internal strife that have cost it more than $1.2 million in lawsuits from its own firefighters, according to the grand jury; and appallingly low morale and fitness for service in the firehouse, according to former Fire Chief Peter Bonano. As Chief Bonano noted, there have been no degradations in service yet. But it’s clear that he was not confident that would continue.

Meanwhile, the Point Montara district (which contracts out its services to Half Moon Bay) has become tangled up in Half Moon Bay’s firehouse politics. This resulted in a now-moribund plan to staff its own firehouse that was so poorly executed it nearly left the district with no service at all.

If something is not done, the result could be a tragedy.

Half Moon Bay has grown from a rural to a suburban fire district quickly and the transition has not been easy. With about 40 employees and a budget of more than $7 million, it’s a big job. It’s not one that is beyond the abilities of a local board, but the current situation has become so extreme that our boards seem to have lost control of it. 

As a firm believer in decentralization and local control, I’d prefer to see the Half Moon Bay and Point Montara districts remain independent and control their own services. I no longer believe that is an option. The burden of proof is now on anyone who opposes consolidation and contracting out.

We’re lucky to have a workable solution to this problem, and it’s time for the community to support our fire boards in making it a reality.


Barry,

I agree completely with your editorial.  I’d like to expand on a few of points.

Chief Hamilton has done a great job of triage and stabilizing the remaining resources.  Both Boards have cooperated to restructure services.  But, these are all temporary.  The Coastside fire service level is lower now than a year ago and operationally weak.  This weak operational capability is exacerbated by the slide being out and the traffic backups.  You wrote, “If something is not done, the result could be a tragedy.”  I would add “quickly”.

The decision on outsourcing can not be allowed to succumb to death by committee, the delays of an all inclusive process or become yet another forum for the expression of strife.  To write, “The burden of proof is now on anyone who opposes consolidation and contracting out.” does not go far enough.  Those of us following the Fire Board sagas have seen the HMBFPD Board get played too many times trying to be “fair”.  Ultimately, the responsibility for any “tragedy” resides with the Boards.  Any individual or group that stands in the way of a decision that moves the process forward is increasing the risk to the community.  The Boards have every right to balance the amount of consideration given to the opposition with the risk to the community of delaying a choice.  The outside guidance on consolidation and outsourcing has been expressed, the in house expertise is there to evaluate the options and the choices few.

If citizens wish to give input on consolidation or contracting out, they should probably give their input early in the process.  There is a HMBFPD Regular Meeting on Tuesday evening and a PMFPD Regular Meeting on Thursday evening.

Your editorial is a good analysis.  We need a professional fire service not endless turf wars. It is time to solve this problem by negotiating a contract for services with the lowest bidder. 

All fire agencies have to meet the same fire code standards. Both agencies who have submitted bids are currently meeting these standards in San Mateo county. The competative bid process is used to ensure the community receives the best value for its tax dollar. 

Ed Carter

Someone help me.  Mr. Williams and Mr Parr both state “If something is not done, the result could be a tragedy.”
To me that sounds alot like “your saftey is at risk”
Mr. Carter then writes about going to the lowest bidder.
To me it sounds just like that little red flyer.
I belive you get what you pay for.
Support your local firefighters
Mark Redman

It’s impossible to read Chief Bonano’s final report without believing that we’re running out of time.

The difference between what I’m saying and “the little red flyer” is that I’m saying outsourcing offers a clear solution to the crisis.

I’d like to see the authors and distributors of the “The Little Red Flyer” (1) tell us their names, and (2) offer a solution to the problem instead of trying to frighten us out of the only solution on the table.

Mark Redman,

My own personal observation is this is a Department teetering on the brink of operational failure with a much lower level of service than a year ago.  But, I’m not a professional.  I present the following to you so you can make your own assement on whether your safety is at risk:

Incident:

At the May HMBFPD Regular Meeting Director Lees reported that a cardiac arrest call from Montara was not responded to by the closest Engine 44 (Point Montara) because the engine was not staffed with a Paramedic on Board.  Instead the delayed response came from Engine 41 (El Granada).  The fact that the PMFPD Engine was not staffed with a Paramedic appears to be a material breach of the Fire Service Agreement between PMFPD and HMBFPD.  PMFPD Director Riddell asked that that incident be put on the June PMFPD agenda.  At the June PMFPD Regular Meeting Chief Hamilton reported that the incident involved a child and was under investigation and may involve personnel disciplinary action.  So, he could not comment further at that meeting.  The ALS JPA report was not available at the last PMFPD meeting, so I don’t know whether there was a fine levied for a delayed response or the response time was met by Engine 41.

Staffing Management Changes and Unfilled Positions:

The Chief is an interim Chief.  Four months into the permanent Chief selection process, it was abandoned. One Division Chief left the Department last year.  The Chief is intending to make one of the remaining Division Chiefs a Fire Marshal and temporarily promote two Captains to fill vacant positions as Acting Battalion Chiefs.

Staffing Line Current:

31 current Line staff, out of 43 positions.
5-Captain Paramedics
4-Captains
19-FireFighter Paramedics
4-Fire Fighters

Staffing Line Staff Experience Level:

Eight or Nine of the Line Staff just graduated in May from the Fire Academy. If two Captains are promoted to Acting Battalion Chiefs, there will be two new Captains.

Staffing Requirements Change:

The requirement that all new Fire Fighters hired also be Paramedics was relaxed last year.

Restructuring Ambulance Service:

Last year HMBFPD(under contract to AMR), staffed two ambulances on the Coastside.  The primary ambulance 440 was staffed by two Fire Fighter Paramedics.  Due to financial problems in HMBFPD the primary ambulance is being turned back to AMR.  The AMR primary Coastside ambulance 440 will be staffed with Paramedics and EMT drivers from AMR, not Fire Fighters.  Due to the slide outage and roughly 80% of the calls being EMS calls, the backup ambulance 441 in El Granada in now staffed by a Captain and a Fire Fighter/Paramedic.  This will potentially leave Engine 41 (El Granada) unstaffed.

Surf Rescue Program Status:

The Surf Rescue Program was put on hold due to training and staffing issues.

Several years ago one of those long term parcel taxes was passed in Montara and Moss Beach to fund the Montare Point fire department. Not long after that the Montara and Half Moon Bay departments merged and suposedly the parcel tax money was just for the Montara area. I would like to know if the charges for fire service are equitable for the whole district and what the discrepancy is ,if any, between fees for Half Moon Bay and Montara area houses for fire service since we should all be getting the same level of service in the merger. Does anyone know?

Linda Prieto,

The current measure H benefit assessment/parcel tax in Point Montara(PMFPD) is set at $165/Parcel.  It is set yearly this time of the year by the PMFPD Board.  The Measure H funds can only be used for paying employee salaries in PMFPD.  The maximum value Measure H can be set at is $250/Parcel.

PMFPD has roughly 2000 households and one Fire Station.  Compared to other Bay Area Fire Districts that is small in terms of households supporting the Fire Station. The average household in PMFPD pays about $800 per year in property taxes with measure H(set at $165).

What you call the merger in 1997/1998 was a transfer of PMFPD’s Linestaff into HMBFPD and PMFPD contracting out for fire Services from HMBFPD. Both Boards and Districts are separate, today.

The Fiscal Year 2005/2006 PMFPD budget is about $1.7M.  Of that $1.4M is for Fire Services purchased from HMBFPD.  It is important to note that the actual cost to HMBFPD to provide that service is 27% of HMBFPD costs which is $2.1M.  So, PMFPD is in a sense getting a bargain, because there is and expectation of consolidation with HMBFPD.  But, what PMFPD doesn’t spend on the service contract with HMBFPD, goes to build PMFPD reserves.  Those PMFPD reserves will be merged with the HMBFPD reserves to form the combined(HMBFPD and PMFPD), Coastside Fire reserves when consolidation finalizes.

I have seen a draft of the PMFPD and HMBFPD consolidation agreement. In it the Measure H parcel tax will continue to exist.  The tax will be set yearly by the Coastside Fire Board.  The tax will be used to used to help pay salaries in the old PMFPD service zone within the Coastside Fire.

HMBFPD has a different cost structure.  There are more households, a fixed parcel tax($40) and Mellos Roos Districts within the District, but also rural lands like the area just North of Tunitas Creek.  They will be other service zones within the combined District.

Many of us were extremely concerned with the equities of all this a while ago.  Some still are.  But, the disparities now pale in comparison to the need to quickly stabilize the service situation and provide a financially sustainable fire service. 

The main problem is the LineStaff costs have grown beyond the ability of the 2000 households in PMFPD to afford to staff the Fire Station.

I’ve simplified this quite a bit to respond to the essence of what I think you are asking.

The LAFCo report has more of the characteristics of the two Districts and the equity issues on the finance.

To simplify Vince’s numbers even more, the Point Montara Fire Protection District (PMFPD) serves 5,000 people with one fire station .  The Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District (HMBFPD) serves 20,000 people with two fire stations.  Of course costs are going to be substantially higher in PMFPD.  And there’s no reason that a merger should reduce costs in the PMFPD territory by increasing costs in the HMBFPD territory.  Therefore even in the consolidated district there will be what’s known under the law as “service zones”, with different rates.

These days, with “move ups” to cover stations where the engine is out on a call, it’s apparently always the El Granada station that is left uncovered.  Montara and Moss Beach get better service, so you have to pay more.

Personally, I think that instead of merging and contracting out, PMFPD should just continue the fire services contract with HMBFPD and HMBFPD can sub out everything.

 

I want to correct one thing I posted earlier that was in error.  The PMFPD Measure H Benefit Assessment is set at $160 per parcel per year. 

At the PMFPD Board meeting on July 20 the PMFPD Board kept the same $160 Measure H Benefit Assessment for FY2006/2007.

Leonard,

You are obviously one of the people concerned with the equities.

The Joint Consolidation Committee has already decided to form service zones for the purpose of maintaining the existing parcel taxes and no more.  Sorry, that Committee did not agree with your input or position. According to the current draft agreement, the plan is to put all the existing revenue in to the common fund and provide uniform service, whether one resides on Tunitas Creek, Ocean Colony, Downtown HMB, El Granda, or the backside of Montara.  If the Coastside FD runs out of funds in the future, presumably they will be able to raise the Measure H in the PMFPD service zone or raise the rates in the Comunity Facilities Districts(the details have not been worked out yet on the process Appendix C is not available).  They can also propose a new parcel tax and put it up to the voters.

 

Barry,

I also agree completely with your editorial. 

It has been almost 10 years since initial positive steps were taken by two neighboring and (at that time cooperating) fire boards to provide combined fire and emergency services to the coastside.  It made sense at that time.  It makes more sense now.  It started with contracting for management services for Pt. Montara Fire District from the Half Moon Bay Fire District and then proceeded to transferring all of Pt. Montara’s employees to the Half Moon Bay Fire District.  The end game was to consolidate both districts into one. It has been all downhill since. 

The unseemly rancor must stop. 

It is time the people: voters, taxpayers, customers, to step in and exercise their influence as owners of the two fire districts to motivate our fire boards employees to move forward and re-focus on the mission entrusted to them: safety and lives and property on the coastside. 

Joe Loomis
Moss Beach
Former Board Member
Point Montara Fire Protection District

We learned at the Half Moon Bay fire board meeting Tuesday night that the Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District spent $400,000 from reserves and $371,000 in non-recurring income last year to fund a district with serious problems and still was over budget on expenditures. The district has spent some $600,000 of its own money on firefighter lawsuit expenses including attorney’s fees over the past several years according to the Grand Jury report and the fire board. The district cannot afford to continue using reserves to balance its budget. Housing sales have slowed so increases in property tax revenue are not increasing as rapidly as in the recent past.

Income from property taxes received by the district have grown from 9% to 11% per year over the past several years – about three times the rate of inflation.  The money spent by the district increased from $6.967 million dollars in the year ended June 30, 2005 to $7.901 million dollars in the year just ended, a 13.4% increase.  This is a dangerous trend.

This past year $6.886 million dollars or 87% of all expenditures were spent for salaries and benefits.  This was $207,627 over budget.  If we take out $1,000,000 for Chief officer and administrative salaries and benefits and use the number of firefighter positions authorized in the department, the average firefighter received $173,117 in salary and benefits last fiscal year.  I think we are supporting our firefighters very well.

Yet, the problems continue. The El Granada station is short staffed on occasion due to budget constraints and lack of personnel due to the high employee turnover.  The board is still having closed sessions to consider firefighter lawsuits.  Firefighters are working a lot of overtime. Firefighters are applying for jobs in other departments.

The Grand Jury recommendation should be adopted and acted upon immediately. The best way to support our firefighters and the community is to keep the district solvent by contracting for services and seeking the lowest cost provider.

Vince wrote “According to the current draft agreement, the plan is to put all the existing revenue in to the common fund and provide uniform service, whether one resides on Tunitas Creek, Ocean Colony, Downtown HMB, El Granda, or the backside of Montara.  If the Coastside FD runs out of funds in the future, presumably they will be able to raise the Measure H in the PMFPD service zone or raise the rates in the Comunity Facilities Districts(the details have not been worked out yet on the process Appendix C is not available).

How is 8 firefighters for 5,000 people the same level of service as 18 firefighters for 20,000 people?  In the Point Montara territory, you have twice as many FFs per capita as in the HMBFPD territory.  Yet some of your board members whine that there are only 2 FFs on one of the shifts in PMFPD.  Yet they lowered the Measure H assessment for purely political reasons, so that they could get re-elected.  After the consolidation, they’ll be insisting on the consolidated district funding that 9th FF in the Moss Beach station.  Who’s going to pay for that?  Me?  Why?

HMBFPD gave PMFPD a discount (“what a deal”) of what, $400,000 on the fire services agreement in order to try to keep the relationship afloat.  That’s a major part of HMBFPD’s current budget problems—the drawdown in reserves for the fiscal year is almost exactly that amount, when other one-time revenues are removed from the equation.

Vince concludes with   They can also propose a new parcel tax and put it up to the voters.

Yeah, that’s really fair to the HMBFPD service zone people.  PMFPD doesn’t pair their fare share, the consolidated district runs short on money, and then everybody has to chip in more.

The bottom line as I see it is that HMBFPD could survive on their own if they had to, although they wouldn’t like it.  PMFPD cannot, and that’s clear to everyone except 3 PMFPD board members and Carl May.  So why exactly should anyone currently in HMBFPD be interested in this consolidation?

I think it’s time to stop trying to fix the blame and start fixing the problem. The bottom line is that when an emergency occurs, sufficient personnel are on duty to respond, and that all of the fire stations are staffed. When you call 911, you don’t care what the lettering on the door of the fire engine says, you just care that an engine is there.

Firefighting is a physical, dirty, frequently dangerous job, and firefighters often have to forgo family responsibilities for their job. But they are fairly compensated and most understand that they are there to serve the community and not themselves. But politics and the past history of both the firefighters and the fire boards seem to have gotten in the way of solving the problems. There seems to be an inordinate amount of time and energy expended in trying to prove a point at the expense of the ordinary citizen. We need to put political pressure on all of the parties to come to a solution that serves the community at a cost we can bear.

Staffing engines with only two personnel or not staffing a station is not a solution that the community should accept. Engines with only two firefighters on board cannot legally conduct an interior attack on a fire unless a confirmed rescue is involved. If that’s my house or business that’s burning, I deserve the fastest and best possible response to protect my property, not watching an engine wait until more personnel arrive before making a fire attack. Not staffing a station puts the community at even more risk.

Consolidating the two departments and contracting for fire management services seems to be the only solution that would fix the problem in a reasonable time frame. But in order to do this, everyone has to do what’s right for the community and stop thinking only of themselves.

Dave Dewey
Deputy Fire Chief (retired)
North County Fire Authority

I can’t begin to understand what’s going on with the two fire departments.
Leonard says thare are 18 firefighters for 20,000 people in Half Moon Bay while Point Montara has 8 firefighters for 5,000 people in the Montara area. Is he saying they should have four times as many firefighters as Point Montara since they have four times the population to cover? Is he saying they need 72 fire fighters to man the HMB service area. In Montara we pay four times as much as do parcels in HMB. Maybe if they raised their fees to $160 they could afford extra fire fighters.
Are the fire fighters in both districts paid the same? Is the work different? Is Point Montara paying for the management that led to all the lawsuits? Which firefighters and which management were involved in the lawsuits and who pays for that?
I think $160 a year is a bargain for fire service when you consider the rise in your fire insurance if you don’t have a good fire department. I am amazed the HMB fees are so low at $40 a parcel.
Also I find it hard to believe that there are no candidates willing to train with the fire departments at $170,000 a year salary, if that is what they really get.
It just seems to me that if we have one combined fire department the training, pay, service,staffing etc should be more or less equitable.

Linda Prieto,

There are two stations in HMBFPD HMB Main Engine 40 and El Granada Engine 41. In PMFPD there is one Station Engine 44.  Each engine is normally staffed with three Firefighters per shift and three rotating shifts.  So, if no Firefighter ever took vacation,jury duty, military service or got sick or injured on the job, there would need to be 27 Firefighters for HMBFPD and PMFPD.  So, there are additional Firefighters to cover absences.  In addition HMBFPD has been staffing the primary ambulance 440 under contract with AMR.  That was an additional 6 Firefighter/Paramedics.  The ambulance is going to be transfered to AMR.  So those six positions will go away.

All the Firefighters work for HMBFPD and have the same pay scale.  Managers work for HMBFPD.  PMFPD has two contract employees( Lawyer and Administrator).  PMFPD is not a party to any of HMBFPD’s lawsuits, contract with the Firefighters or employment relationship with other employees.

Proposition 13 set the percentages of property taxes available for fire and emergency services.  Cities get a larger portion than unincorporated areas. HMBFPD has a large portion of it’s tax value in the City of HMB.  PMFPD is all unincorporated County.  So HMBFPD gets a larger percentage of the base property tax.  PMFPD implemented Measure H to afford to keep up with costs.  HMBFPD implemented a $40/parcel tax.  In HMBFPD new subdivisions and commercial projects are charged for the existing fire infrastructure paid for already by existing taxpayers and for new capital and staff(if needed) to support their project.  These are Mellos Roos/Community Facilities Districts(CFD).  For example Harbor Village in Princeton will be a CFD.  HMBFPD will do an analysis of the benefit Harbor Village gets from what is there already and what new is needed and get the developer to “vote” to accept it and pay an annual fee in addition to property taxes.

The average household in PMFPD pays about $640 in base property taxes and $160 in Measure H for fire and emergency services.  A household in HMB city has a higher percent base of property taxes and $40 parcel tax or CFD annual fee going to fire and emergency services.  A household in El Ganada pays a comparable portion of base property taxes to what a household in PMFPD does and a $40 parcel tax.

Today PMFPD is responsible for paying for one station.  HMBFPD is responsible for two stations. I don’t know what is “fair” for each individual owner in each of the two Districts to pay for Fire and Emergency services.  So, I don’t really see any point in arguing with Leonard. I reported on what is in the consolidation agreement draft.

I’ve probably run out of words, so I’ll continue in another post.

Dave Dewey,

Great post.

On one point, I think everyone agrees that unstaffed stations and two Firefighters on an engine is not acceptable.  All the local Fire Service “contractors” I heard on PMFPD trying to staff their engine, wouldn’t bid service with less than three on an engine.

Linda Prieto,

Now about the salaries.  The $170K is probably an upper practical limit of what a Captain/Paramedic could gross in a year.

Salary Ranges(from 2004 MOU):
Firefighter $59,741 to $78,193
Firefighter/Paramedic $67,360 to $83,812
Captain $ 81,449 to $90,588
Captain/Paramedic $89,068 to $98,207

Overtime is time and a half.  A previous email of mine went over how overtime adds up.

Benefits including retirement cost(the District) about 50% of base pay.

The problem is not finding qualified candidates, given these salaries.  It is such a desirable position, that many take years to find a paying job and have to keep up their certifications, until they do.  The salaries also explains why a District has difficulty staffing with just Volunteers. It is desirable to have the Firefighters living in the community.  Many of our Firefighters do.  This is an expensive place to live.  But, there is no legal requirement that they live in the community.  Given the work schedule a Firefighter could live just about anywhere in the state and do one commute every six days.

You are right about home insurance.  It’s important to keep the ISO ratings of the Fire District up.

Linda Prieto asked a number of questions—

Leonard says thare are 18 firefighters for 20,000 people in Half Moon Bay while Point Montara has 8 firefighters for 5,000 people in the Montara area. Is he saying they should have four times as many firefighters as Point Montara since they have four times the population to cover? Is he saying they need 72 fire fighters to man the HMB service area.

I’m not expressing any opinion regarding the appropriate staffing level, I’m just pointing out that per capita costs are higher in the PM territory because there are twice as many firefighters per capita.

In Montara we pay four times as much as do parcels in HMB. Maybe if they raised their fees to $160 they could afford extra fire fighters.

Vince has described how those assessments are only supplemental, both districts get a significant amount of money from property taxes.  So you’re not paying 4 times as much total—it’s just the extra assessment that is much higher in PM.

HMBFPD engine 40 (HMB) and engine 41 (El Granada) theoretically have 3 firefighters on each engine for all 3 shifts.  PMFPD engine 44 (Moss Beach) has 3 FFs on 2 shifts and only 2 FFs on one shift.  What conclusion do you want to draw now regarding “... afford extra fire fighters”?

Are the fire fighters in both districts paid the same? Is the work different?

Vince has answered this—it is a combined work force.  PM does not employ any firefighters.

I think $160 a year is a bargain for fire service when you consider the rise in your fire insurance if you don’t have a good fire department. I am amazed the HMB fees are so low at $40 a parcel.

Check earlier comments regarding the total funding levels—you can’t consider only the additional assessments you mention.

Also I find it hard to believe that there are no candidates willing to train with the fire departments at $170,000 a year salary, if that is what they really get.

I think that the issue is retention, not recruitment.  They currently have something like 9 trainees, an unacceptably high and unprecedented percentage.

It just seems to me that if we have one combined fire department the training, pay, service,staffing etc should be more or less equitable.

Since it’s a single combined operation now, there is no distinction based on which station they’re assigned to, so this isn’t an issue.

I am the wife of a devoted firefighter with the HMBFPD for more than six years.  We have two young daughters and live in El Granada (which, to my dismay, is not represented on the HMB Fireboard).  I am sincerely concerned by the comments made here over the past month.  It is clear to me that there is a lack of understanding and appreciation for what these deeply dedicated firefighters do every single day on our behalf and what a reasonable compensation is for the truly amazing work that they perform.

Our local Firefighters have to respond to a wide variety of calls.  One call they responded to was a car accident where the mother and father (both in their twenties) were killed and their three year old daughter was extricated from the car and taken by our ambulance to the hospital for treatment.  This is simply a day in the life of anyone of our firefighters.  When everyone is running out of a burning building, they are running in - to try to save the lives of all of us who live in this community.  They see terrible things that no one should ever have to see on a daily basis: death, trauma, and much more.  When my husband comes home from work after being gone for two days, the first thing our five year old daughter asks is “tell me about your calls.”  She does not hear the true nature of her father’s work, which is saved for after the girls are asleep.  Many things that my husband sees over a two day shift are so terrible that he does not even share them with me. 

My husband does not receive anything remotely close to the hugely inflated salary of $170,000.00 that has been discussed in these postings.  Regarding overtime: most of the firefighters in the department have families and do not want overtime hours.  Firefighting demands a lot of a family.  The regular work schedule and mandatory “Holds” do not take into account children’s birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other missed family events.  We have spent every Christmas for the past six years at the El Granada Fire Station with our two small children and the families of the other Firefighters that are working this and many other holidays.

At a recent Board Meeting, Lane Lees said that he sees the lowest bidder as a “win/win.”  If the decision is made for our local fire departments to be taken over by State, I will encourage my husband to look for work elsewhere, as a number of other firefighters have already done.  Working more days for the same or less pay is not a “win/win” for us. 

We love our community and are proud of our role as part of the “first responders.”  I genuinely hope that we choose to do what so many other small cities have done so effectively: consolidate under one local entity that lives among us, and will continue to care for us and our families in a way that a state run agency, like CDF, is simply unable to do.  This is, in my opinion, the only way that we can guarantee the true safety of our community. 

Kristi Will
El Granada

Kristi Will,

$170K was an estimate for 5 to 7 days of overtime per month depending on position.  But, what is the average gross income for Linestaff at HMBFPD?  Ed Carter posted the average compensation costs at $173K.  I posted the benefits costs range from $30K to $48K.  Subtract the average benefits costs from the average compensation costs for Linestaff and the average gross is $134K.

You pointed out, not every member of the Linestaff wants a lot of overtime.  If the Linestaff are transfered to a larger Firefighting organization like The City of San Mateo Fire Department or California Division of Forestry, there will be a much larger pool of Firefighters available to work overtime.  That means more time for the family but, less overtime pay.

This rhetoric of “sold to the highest bidder” and your “taken over by the state” is disingenuous.  The consolidated Coastside Fire will have a Board comprised of HMBFPD current Directors and PMFPD current Directors.  These Board members will make decisions about levels of service, what services are performed in house and what services are contracted out.  What is being proposed is to contract out fire services.  Both San Mateo and CDF are excellent organizations.  The Firefighters are represented by The IAFF Local 2400. It’s a free country, individuals are free to change employers, if they don’t like the terms of their employment.

Who was it who said Americans have an amazing capacity for keeping two opposite points of view in mind at the same time. In one breath it is said we coastsiders are all part of one community, that our interests are common ones, that we are all in the same boat, and in the next breath the same people argue that Point Montara citizens should continue to pay a parcel tax four times as high after consolidation of the districts.

Oh yeah, lots of rationalizing blather about HMB vs. county taxation and expenditure differences, but that only serves to demonstrate we are dealing with some distinctly different communities. Several within each of HMB and the midcoast county areas, in fact.

The more one reads all the prior messages in this thread, the more one gets the idea those pushing consolidation are not about the quality of fire protection and emergency services so much as they are about limiting or reducing costs to levels they believe are appropriate. This may explain why they stuck with the idea of joining with the much troubled, mismanaged, and sued HMB district even as each management shortcoming worse than the previous one was exposed. No, I’m not forgetting the imperious and straight-jacketed outside Grand Jury and LAFCO opinions by people with cemented-in urban mindsets who know little or nothing of the actual communities here.

So here’s a question to set everyone off into their spreadsheets: If everything is to be farmed out to operation by an off-the-coast agency anyway, why consolidate the two coastside districts, with the loss of a degree of local control that would entail? Local votes on such matters should be required—and don’t give me the crap about having to go through a petition process to get something that should be the right of the citizens involved in the first place.

Carl May

Carl May,

We have been over local control many times.  I agree with what Barry said in his editorial about local control.  But, everything has a cost.  Here is yours.

The differences in the parcel taxes pale in comparison to the costs of PMFPD going it alone or contracting with CDF or San Mateo on its own. In fact to fund those at current rates would mean setting Measure H at $250/parcel and implementing a new parcel tax of about $125 on top of that.  Why do you think your locally controlled Board has been so quiet?  From HMBFPD’s residents standpoint, by consolidating they can achieve an economy of scale and provide a higher level of service than they could contracting on their own.

If you want to maintain your local control and the unique qualities of your District, be prepared to reach into your pocket for another $200 per year to do so.  Principles cost money.

If you have a better practical alternative speak up. I’m not interested in hearing about some fairytale small district somewhere in the hinterlands of California that works magic.  The service requirement for PMFPD is three professional Firefighters with one being a Firefighter/Paramedic 24/7 and a Chief to manage the operation for less than $1.8M per year.  I’m even giving you a break, because that is a lower service level than we will likely get through consolidating and contracting out.  Where is your solution?

Answer the question. The operations will all be under one roof if contracted out to the same over-the-hill outfit. Why consolidate with a sick, mismanaged, neighboring district first?

My past examples of much smaller communities with their own independent fire protection districts are not “magic”; they are all over the place in California. Only a dogged urban mindset that won’t look at existing situations separates some people from realizing this. Want slurbia? It’s just over the hill for those who prefer that setting.

This is something that should go before the voters of Point Montara, complete with a clear (and not fabricated for the convenience of the traditional stance of non-coastal government agencies who would impose their “studies” on us) statement of costs involved. And consolidation of districts is not something that should be imposed by a small clique of citizens looking to save money according to their personal calculations and attitudes—notably a viewpoint and set of arguments that did not prevail in the most recent past election for Point Montara board members.

Our Montara and Moss Beach communities have been surprising in what they have been willing to impose on themselves in the interest of good and locally controlled services, including the levy for taking over the water system and Measure H itself. I’m not the only local who knows there is usually more than one narrow way to do things and that assertions by a few about how things must be done are not necessarily truisms.

Carl May

Carl May,

We must be at the bitter end of this discussion.

Carl May writes:
>Why consolidate with a sick, mismanaged, neighboring district first?

The simple answer.  There are no other options.  Who will rescue PMFPD from thin revenues and the need to staff an engine company and provide Paramedics?  How can HMBFPD afford to have Operations Chiefs, if it just has two engines and only its own revenue?  This is a merger of financial and service necessity.  Two Fire Agencies responded to the Request for Proposal from PMFPD and HMBFPD for service together and separately.

Carl May writes:
>My past examples of much smaller communities with their own independent fire protection districts are not “magic”;
>they are all over the place in California.

I don’t recollect you doing more that postulating that they exist.  Name one.  Describe how it is funded, revenue base and how it is staffed.  Again, I ask, where is your solution?

Carl May writes:
>This is something that should go before the voters of Point Montara…

You can gather signatures to petition LAFCo to take a vote on consolidation or you can quickly lobby to have the law changed.

Carl May writes:
>...dogged urban mindset…Want slurbia…just over the hill for those who prefer that setting…
>And consolidation of districts is not something that should be imposed by a small clique of citizens
>looking to save money according to their personal calculations and attitudes—notably a viewpoint
>and set of arguments that did not prevail in the
most recent past election for Point Montara board members.

Can’t you make your point without resorting to thinly veiled ad hominem?

I agree with Carl’s point about “why consolidate” if it’s all going to be contracted out.  The only answer I’ve received is a weak “because the contracting agencies don’t want to deal with two agencies over here.”

But Carl, when you point to small single engine companies in small towns, how recent is your knowledge?  There have been requirements imposed from above which make it somewhere between difficult and impossible to run a small fire district.  I’ve also been told that the small fire districts that you’re likely thinking of are stilll all-volunteer districts.

All that said, I still don’t see any great need or substantial value in consolidating—the same net effect can be accomplished by continuing the fire services agreement between PMFPD and HMBFPD and in that agreement, indicating that HMBFPD may subcontract out the whole operation.

By the way Carl, do you know that the County, at least in the form of the two Supervisors on LAFCo, is basically saying that we can’t reorg the Granada Sanitary District into a CSD in order to add parks and rec because they think that there should be a single NEW midcoast-wide parks agency?  (Just what we need… ANOTHER government agency on the coastside.)  The fact that this may never happen doesn’t seem to concern them—they just don’t want the “greater El Granada” area (*) to have local control of parks.  This is nearly the identical issue that you’re miffed about with the fire districts.  (If there is to be response to this paragraph, I should submit it as an LTE to start a new thread.  Email me privately instead of commenting on this fire district thread.)

(*) By “greater El Granada area” I mean the part of the Granada Sanitary District outside the city of Half Moon Bay:  Princeton, El Granada, Miramar north of Medio Creek.

 

Leonard,

How are “requirements imposed from above” any different than imposition of LAFCO opinions from outside or the absurd suggestion that a few unified voices should be able to force abandonment of an independent district into a consolidated one without a vote on such a major change to *their* district by citizens of the communities involved. That citizens should have to petition to force a vote on a change being forced on them by a relative few in government is insulting. Could that have anything to do with the local people most active in forcing their will through that change having their candidate come in last in our most recent Point Montara election?

We have never been treated to objective studies and problem-solving behavior for Point Montara in recent years. Everything has had slanted assumptions and pushed agendas, from the local district board through the cliques that seem most worried about cutting expenses or promoting development, to the imperial county agencies that treat the midcoast as their political plaything. Let me remind everyone that the takeover of water services in Montara and Moss Beach was not possible until a law was passed removing a roadblock on the state level. When government restrictions don’t work for a place, change them!

If all avenues, setups, and options for local fire and other emergency services are truly explored and the last resort for keeping local control of this small facet of our lives is another tax, then let’s have a vote on that.

Carl May