South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Baumgarth, Hilmer vie for Mehlville Fire board

Hilmer seeks a fourth term against a former firefighter

Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the March 23 print edition of The Call. Read web-exclusive questions and answers from the candidates at the end of this article. 

Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Director Aaron Hilmer is seeking reelection to a fourth term in the upcoming Tuesday, April 4 election, challenged by former firefighter Fred Baumgarth for a six-year term.

Baumgarth, 69, is a retiree and a newcomer to public office. He is a lifetime member of the International Association of Fire Fighters and previously ran unsuccessfully against MFPD board Director Ed Ryan in 2019 and MFPD board Director Bonnie Stegman in 2021.

Baumgarth said he was seeking office to “Stop runaway spending, stop degrading fire protection services.”

Hilmer, 48,  is a self-employed plumber.  He has served on the MFPD Board of Directors since 2005.

Hilmer said he was running for a fourth term to “continue the work the voters started 18 years ago.”

The candidates gave the following responses to The Call’s questionnaire:

What issue do you consider the single most important in this race and why?

Fred Baumgarth

Baumgarth: “Fully staffing all fire apparatus 24/7.”

Hilmer: “For voters to decide if they want to keep Mehlville the finest 911 provider in Missouri at the lowest tax rate.”

Are you satisfied with the leadership of Chief Brian Hendricks?

Baumgarth: “No. He has a hand in degrading fire protection in favor of ambulance service, then uses taxpayer dollars to travel the county bragging about it. See EMS World Expo Oct. 11, 2022.”

Hilmer: “Yes. For over a decade (Hendricks) has helped push the district to the cutting edge of redefining how 911 services are delivered, all while maintaining the lowest tax rate.”

Do you support the board’s recent decision to join the Missouri Fire Fighters Critical Illness Pool?

Baumgarth: “In part.”

Hilmer: “Yes. It was an issue brought to us by Local 2665 and we all agreed.”

Do you believe the current amount of the district’s reserves is adequate?

Baumgarth: “In no way, shape or form.”

Hilmer: “Yes. We have eliminated all debt from the district, except for the old defined benefit pension plan, which we are paying off.”

How do you envision the relationship between the Board of Directors and the firefighters’ union?

Aaron Hilmer

Baumgarth: “Almost non-existent.”

Hilmer: “Amicable. Some of the proposals/ideas they have brought to us we have adopted and helped improve Mehlville.”

Do you support the reforms that have been enacted by the Board of Directors since 2005? Why or why not?

Baumgarth: “These reforms have created the lowest experienced workforce in Mehlville history.”

Hilmer: “Yes. The evidence is clear. In 2023, Mehlville is the premier 911 service in Missouri at the lowest tax rate.”

How did you vote on Proposition 1, the fire district’s 20-cent tax-rate increase, in the April 2022 election?

Baumgarth: “Improper question.”

Hilmer: “Yes.”

Should the Board of Directors eliminate ambulance billing? If so, how do you propose to replace that revenue?

Baumgarth: “District residents should not be billed except through insurance.”

Hilmer: “No. This policy was put into place in 2002 by a previous board.”

Should facility and equipment purchases be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis or should the district borrow money?

Baumgarth: “This district was built on bond issues. Pay-as-you-go is not working. It has caused $4.2 million in deficit spending in two years and a 20-cent tax increase.”

Hilmer: “Yes. Over the last 18 years we have built four firehouses with a fifth on the way, a training center, 10 firetrucks, 21 ambulances. All paid with cash.”

Do you believe the district has a problem with employee retention?

Baumgarth: “Horrendous. Employees are treated no better than a warm body filling a spot. I know. I worked there.”

Hilmer: “No. We employ 47 critical care paramedics. The rest of the city and county, zero.”

Do you believe the Mehlville Fire Protection District is moving in the right direction? What changes would you suggest, if any?

Baumgarth: “No. Rebuild fire protection services. Stop the highest turnover rate in Mehlville history.”

Hilmer: “Yes. The last 18 years proves that.”

If elected or reelected, would you support the board voluntarily rolling back the district’s tax rate?

Baumgarth: “No.”

Hilmer: “Yes. We were the first government entity to put a tax decrease on the ballot.”

Do you support the district’s critical care paramedic program?

Baumgarth: “Yes. Better than the fire/medic system.”

Hilmer: “Yes. Mehlville employees set the bar by which all other districts must measure.”

How many Board of Directors meetings have you attended?

Baumgarth: “Not many. Bills are paid in open session. All other business goes on behind closed doors.”

Hilmer: “Approximately 400 meetings.”

The district now has a training center. What else should the district do to advance training?

Baumgarth: “As I stated before, hire a training officer. Apparently nobody wants the job due to well-known anti-labor policies.”

Hilmer: “There is no other district that trains to the extent Mehlville does.”

Should the district switch to 48-hour shifts? Why or why not?

Baumgarth: “Only if done without additional cost.”

Hilmer: “No. Name another profession where employees work 48-hour shifts, driving equipment and making critical medical decisions. It’s an anti-resident policy.”

Read on for web-exclusive questions and answers: 

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Baumgath: “Balance the budget.”

Hilmer did not answer

Would you accept campaign contributions from Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters or any other firefighters’ union, political-action committee or related group?

Baumgath: “No.”

Hilmer: “No.”

Do you believe that fire districts in St. Louis County should be consolidated?

Baumgath: “No.”

Hilmer: “Yes.

Do you believe the Board of Directors has faithfully adhered to the letter of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law? What would you do as a board member to ensure the board’s compliance with this law?

Baumgath: “Sometimes. Convey more business in open session.”

Hilmer: “Yes. Mehlville was the first entity to introduce a transparency portal.”

Do you agree with the Board of Director’s decision to change the district’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan? Please elaborate.

Baumgath: “No. The plan was 100-percent funded. The change was a stick in the eye to the rank and file.”

Hilmer: “Yes. It was the hardest reform we made. It created a … foundation we built from.”

Have you been endorsed by any groups, organizations, union, et cetera?

Baumgath: “No.”

Hilmer: “No.”

Has the district done enough to increase employee benefits?

Baumgath: “Absolutely not. Main reason turnover is the worst it’s ever been.”

Hilmer: “Yes, we remain competitive.”

Are you satisfied with the fire district’s level of service and response times? Please elaborate.

Baumgath: “No. All fire apparatus is not staffed 24/7.”

Hilmer: “Yes, when residents call 911 in St. Louis County, there is no finer response than Mehlville.”

Is the Mehlville Fire Protection District better off today than in 2004? Why or why not?

Baumgath: “Disastrous places of this board has led to the overall decline of the fire district as a whole.”

Hilmer: “Yes. In 2004, the district had four full-time EMS ????. In 2023, it’s 14, at the lowest tax rate in the county.”

Are you satisfied with the overall financial condition of the Mehlville Fire Protection District? Please elaborate.

Baumgath: “No. Too much deficit spending.”

Hilmer: “Yes, we are on a rock solid foundation as a result of the reforms we made in 2005.”

Are you satisfied with the level of training the district provides employees?

Baumgath: “Room for improvement.”

Hilmer: “Yes.”

Are you satisfied with the equipment and apparatus provided for district employees?

Baumgath: “Concerns about selling the 100-foot ladder and not replacing it.”

Hilmer: “Yes, we transformed a … obsolete infrastructure into state-of-the-art.”

Are you satisfied with the condition of the district’s facilities? Are improvements needed at any of the firehouses?

Baumgath: “Building more buildings is breaking the financial back of this district.”

Hilmer: “Yes, we are building a new firehouse on Telegraph and redoing headquarters/Engine House No. 5 on Mueller Road.”

Do you support the current relationship between the fire board and the union?

Baumgath: “The board does not recognize the union in most labor relations.”

Hilmer: “Yes.”

Would you support consolidating the fire district with another fire district?

Baumgath: “No. Too costly to the residents who have paid to build this district.”

Hilmer: “Yes.”

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