Fire-tax ballot measure arrives

Outcome will decide future of two fire departments

SAN CARLOS — The hour is drawing near for property owners to determine the fate of the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department.

Voters will find ballots in their mailboxes early next week asking them to approve a tax assessment aimed at raising $2.3 million for the 26-year joint Fire Department, which narrowly avoided dissolution at thehands of both cities early this year. Ballots, which will be mailed Friday, are due back Nov. 14.

Officials in both cities have spent recent weeks pounding the pavement and explaining the tax plan to potential voters — some of whom helped defeat Measure I, a $3 million property tax in support of the former South County Fire Department, which failed to win the two-thirds majority needed for passage in November 2003. The failure of that measure forced the department formerly known as the South County Fire Authority to lay off seven firefighters and ultimately led to its reorganization.

“We have not focused on a Plan B [if this fails] … but there’s a whole domino effect of things that are going to happen,” Belmont Councilmember Dave Warden said.

The Fire Department faces a number of belt-tightening actions if the measure does not pass, including further brownouts of its fire stations, increased overtime and worker’s compensation costs and a potentially major hit to firefighter morale.

However, the all-mail ballot has earned support from several quarters, including residential groups in San Carlos and Belmont and property owners in the Harbor Industrial Area, according to Grocott.

The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce voted last week to endorse the assessment after many businesses said they’d be willing to support it, according to chamber President Sheryl Pomerenk.

“We endorsed it, despite reservations about the larger [tax] burden to the business community,” Pomerenk said. “I think everyone understands that the alternatives are not good.”

San Carlos has adopted a tax structure in which, if the assessment passes, homeowners would pay $99 per year and businesses would pay between $243 and $322 per year, depending on the type. In Belmont, homeowners will be asked to pay a maximum of $93 per year while commercial property owners would pay roughly 6 cents per square foot.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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