Belmont, San Carlos revive authority

The South County Fire Authority’s Board of Commissioners approved the final agreement to save a renamed and reorganized South County Fire Authority on Wednesday night.

The meeting at Belmont’s City Hall was quiet, but well-attended by firefighters waiting on a final resolution of the authority.

“It just seems that the political wheels move slowly. We try to be patient,” Fire Capt. Joseph Kinson said.

The new body, to be called the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, must still be approved by two city councils this month.

The vote brought the joint powers authority nearly full circle from late 2004, when the two cities that make it up, Belmont and San Carlos, moved to dissolve it due to disagreements about the best way to handle an ongoing budget deficit.

But, in the past few months, officials in the two cities have rallied to revive the much-lauded body, led by San Carlos Mayor Matt Grocott and Belmont Councilman Dave Warden.

“I was honestly surprised when the elected officials made a last-ditch effort to save South County Fire,” Fire Chief Chuc Lowden said.

“A roller-coaster ride, I would suggest, has not been an inadequate description at this point,” he said.

Under the new agreement, the $13 million budget will be split between the cities based on population, assessed property value and the total number of fire stations, companies and service calls coming out of each city.

Before that happens, however, a tax assessment, previously estimated at $3 million, must be levied in a mail-in ballot and passed by a majority of property owners in the 2006-07 fiscal year.

Until the assessment is passed, San Carlos and Belmont will continue to split costs halfway.

The board was also working on what were expected to be lengthy labor negotiations on salary, benefits and contract language in a session closed to the public Wednesday night.

If the revenue measure isn’t successful, either city can dissolve the arrangement by June 30, 2007. If it is successful, either can withdraw with 18 months notice.

kwilliamson@examiner.comartsbooksLocal

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