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Belmont OKs fire deal
November 15, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Michael Keefe, the current fire chief for both the San Mateo and Foster City fire departments, may soon lead the Belmont Fire Department as well as its council voted unanimously Tuesday night to enter into negotiations with the two cities for Keefe’s services.

If approved by both the San Mateo and Foster City councils this Monday, the deal could ultimately save the Belmont Fire Protection District about $500,000 a year.

The move comes after Belmont split with San Carlos in October 2011 for shared fire services when the two cities voted to dissolve the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department after a disagreement over how the department was funded. The two cities participated in a joint-powers agreement for nearly 32 years before dissolution.

Belmont Fire Chief Doug Fry actually retired before the city re-established its own stand-alone fire department but was rehired as an interim chief and has been exploring contracting out management oversight since.

Belmont residents assess themselves nearly $7 million annually to provide fire service in the city but it is not enough to maintain a stand-alone department for the long term, according to a staff report.

Foster City and San Mateo currently share Keefe, as well as a deputy chief and battalion chiefs under a shared-services agreement reached two years ago that will save the cities about $1.5 million over a 36-month period.

San Mateo and Foster City will provide Belmont with a fire chief, battalion chiefs and an administrative battalion chief.

Belmont will provide a deputy fire chief and the term of the contract will be for 18 months, starting Jan. 1, according to the staff report.

Currently, Belmont pays about $1.3 million in management costs for the department but that figure will shrink to about $780,000 under the shared-services agreement.

The Belmont Fire Department currently has 25 employees but that number will reduce to 22 through attrition, according to the staff report.

The deputy fire chief will report to the Belmont city manager and the fire personnel in the district will still be Belmont employees.

Foster City Vice Mayor Pam Frisella told the Daily Journal that sharing services on a regional basis should be considered even more by cities in San Mateo County.

"We have to do anything we can to save money,” Frisella said. "I don’t see a downside to this. All three communities will be kept safe.”

Escalating pension costs are eating into all three cities’ budgets.

The arrangement will not only save Belmont money but allow the city to maintain its own autonomous fire department, Belmont Mayor Dave Warden said.

Both the San Mateo and Foster City councils meet this Monday to consider the proposal.

In other Belmont City Council news: The council voted unanimously to raise garbage rates by 13.84 percent next year. Most of the rate increase is due to migration adjustments and migration recovery surcharges to Recology for residents opting to use smaller trash cans.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: silverfarb@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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