Officials weighing fire tax in Belmont, San Carlos

An assessment to support the South County Fire Protection Authority could cost Belmont and San Carlos homeowners between $82 and $131 per year, according to a consultant’s report.

Officials from both cities on Wednesday will determine how much they think property owners are willing to spend to save the joint fire agency, which nearly disbanded this year due to disagreements between Belmont and San Carlos officials. Designing a winning tax will be tricky, since residents rejected Measure I, a parcel tax to fund the fire department set at $88 per dwelling unit and $0.11 per square foot for commercial properties, in November 2003.

Fire department officials laid off seven firefighters and eliminated two vacant positions following the tax’s failure. Subsequent disagreements over how to improve the department’s financial position ultimately contributed to the near-dissolution of the department.

Officials voted in February to keep the SCFPA operational, rather than contract fire services to San Mateo or the California Department of Forestry — on the condition that they raise roughly $3 million through an assessment of local property. The all-mail election will take place later this year.

The SCFPA is currently browning out fire stations due to staffing and revenue shortages.

The 75 property owners in the Harbor Industrial Area, which San Carlos annexed in 1997, say their support will depend on how much they are asked to pay. The report from MuniFinancial Services proposes 8 to 10 cents per square foot for commercial space in Belmont and $267 to $595 per commercial parcel in San Carlos.

“Hopefully we can get [the residential tax] below $100, and then I think it has a better chance of passing,” said Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach. “Just go out to dinner one less time each month and that should pay for it.”

The South County Fire board meets tonight at 6:30 p.m. at San Carlos City Hall, 600 Elm St.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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