Measure would up fire spending limits

A measure on the November ballot would significantly increase the Menlo Park Fire District’s spending limit to $40 million for the next four years.

The district’s current appropriations limit, approved by voters in 2006, is $25 million. Supporters say the money is already approved, and a ‘yes’ vote simply allows the district to use its current revenues. The measure would not increase taxes, and no rebuttal argument has been filed.

The need for Measure G stems from a 1978 amendment to the state Constitution that restricts governments’ spending of tax revenues above an annually adjusted limit, known as an appropriations limit. Supporters of Measure G point out that the district’s limit is based on its 1978 revenue, though it has been adjusted annually for inflation. It does not reflect the increase in growth of the community, its buildings, or its demand for services, fire officials say.

Menlo Park Fire District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said raising that limit to $40 million gives the district room to grow and does not reflect how much fire officials plan to spend. The district’s current budget is about $27 million a year, and its 2008-09 budget is set at $29 million.

“We’re raising the ceiling for what we could spend, but we still have the fiduciary responsibility to the public not to overspend,” he said.

Currently, money in the budget that is above the appropriations limits must be either given back to the county, used for land acquisition, or spent on major equipment valued over $100,000. Raising the spending limit would give the district’s board of directors the latitude to spend those same funds on things such as new hires, day-to-day firehouse maintenance or public outreach programs, Schapelhouman said.

Because there are no new taxes involved, Measure G must only be approved by a simple majority of voters. Supporters maintain that if the measure fails, the board of directors of the growing district may be forced to cut staffing at its seven stations. “I think we’re very lean and self-sufficient already. We do our own maintenance and landscaping. Our firefighters are out there mowing the lawn,” Schapelhouman said.

The district covers about 30 square miles and serves around 93,000 people in Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and some of unincorporated Redwood City. Its firefighters respond to about 8,500 emergencies annually. About 60 percent are medical calls, according to district officials.

tbarak@examiner.com

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