‘FACTS’ just don’t add up for MFPD’s Proposition S

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

Just over 10 years ago, Mehlville Fire Protection District voters were told that the need for a proposed 33-cent tax-rate increase could be “the difference between life and death.”

Needless to say, the tax-rate increase, called Proposition S, was approved in the November 2004 election.

Prop S was formulated after the district conducted a community-engagement process called the Fire District Advisory Committee for Tomorrow’s Emergency Services, or FACTS.

Looking back, some of the information provided to participants was inaccurate. Consider these projections:

• Health insurance costs — FACTS participants were told in August 2004 that the district’s health insurance costs would increase 577 percent by 2015. In 2004, the district paid $1,691,676 for health insurance. In 2015, health insurance was projected to cost $11,463,936.

But the actual cost for 2015 is $1.21 million — a far cry from nearly $11.5 million.

• Workers’ compensation and property insurance costs — FACTS participants were told that the district’s workers’ compensation and property insurance premiums would increase 642 percent by 2015. In 2004, the district paid $759,859 for such premiums. In 2015, the premiums were projected to cost $5,645,816.

But the actual cost for 2015 is $567,000 for workers’ compensation and $230,000 for insurance and bonds — roughly $4.85 million less than what was projected in 2004.

That’s just two of many faulty assumptions that were presented to FACTS participants.

Though voters approved the tax-rate increase, not everyone was convinced of the need for Prop S. Shortly after the passage of the measure, Aaron Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman filed to run for the district’s Board of Directors on a reform platform.

Hilmer and Stegman were elected in April 2005 and began to fulfill the pledges they made, including not levying the 33-cent tax-rate increase.

The two, joined by board Secretary Ed Ryan in 2007, also instituted reforms to the district’s health insurance and workers’ compensation programs, and have changed other district policies to strengthen Mehlville’s financial position.

In early 2006, Hilmer cited the fiscal soundness of the district and termed Prop S “the greatest sham ever laid on the voters of south county.”

Or perhaps another way to say it is never let the “FACTS” get in the way of a good story.