Board, union form committee seeking to solve MFPD’s financial problems

By Karen Callanan

The Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors and union employees recently discussed solving the district’s financial problems by forming a review committee, negotiating such items as tuition reimbursements and attrition — but not layoffs.

During the Oct. 6 Board of Directors meeting, Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters President Chris Francis announced to the board that union employees once again have formed a committee to consider cost-cutting measures for the district, as well as ways to increase the district’s revenue. The committee will report to the board at a later date.

Earlier in the meeting, board members considered approval of tuition reimbursement for a paramedic.

While the tuition was requested for 2003 and 2004, board Chairman Tom O’Dris-coll made a motion to approve the tuition reimbursement request of $2,650 for 2003 and table the tuition reimbursement request for 2004.

“I recognize that we’ve approved these in the past almost without exception, if I recall correctly, at least in my tenure,” O’Driscoll said. “And I would recommend we approve the 2003, but defer the 2004 until we get a better handle on our finances in general.

“Frankly, I’m going to put this solution … into the negotiations for next year, and a lot of other things, I would like to see that included, given our present financial situation, and information pointed out by your lustrous president there just a week or two ago,” the board chairman added.

Also during the meeting, O’Driscoll said he wanted to dispel a rumor of layoffs in the district.

“We’ve got plenty of things we can do around here still to save money,” O’Driscoll noted.

Despite a rumor of impending layoffs, he said there had been no discussion or plan of layoffs. He added that as long as he was there, there will not be any layoffs.

“We’ll look at attrition, we will look at equipment plan modification, we will look at a number of other things that have come to my attention to get us in better financial situation,” O’Driscoll said.

Board Treasurer Dan Ottoline Sr. said that from day one he said there won’t be any layoffs.

Francis said that was great to hear from a union standpoint.

A few weeks ago, the union voiced concerns to the board that the 2003 amended budget for the general fund shows expenditures totaling $10.3 million, but the general fund balance of $8.6 million beginning Jan. 1, 2003, only lasts until about October, when the district then is “borrowing from next year’s money” to cover the approximately $800,000 left in 2003 expenses.

Voters had rejected a 25-cent tax rate in-crease sought by the fire protection district in August 2002.

Shortly thereafter, a preliminary 2003 budget was presented to the Board of Directors projecting total expenditures of $19,288,510 with estimated total revenue of $17,480,500 — showing a shortfall of $1,808,010.

That budget later was amended to be the first balanced budget in recent history. The district was not going into the red, but was dipping into its reserve funds.

Before that, voters rejected a 25-cent tax rate increase in April 2001.

The final 2004 budget will be presented in December, but the district’s preliminary budget presented to and approved by the Board of Directors projects total expenditures of $18,551,891 with estimated revenues of $19,132,627 — an excess of $596,163.