Fire district voters to consider tax decrease in April election

Board secretary asks if Proposition TD stands for district’s ‘total destruction’

By MIKE ANTHONY

Mehlville Fire Protection District voters will consider Proposition TD, or Tax Decrease, when they go to the polls April 3.

If approved by a simple majority of voters, the district’s general-fund tax-rate ceiling would be permanently reduced by 45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which would equate to a total tax reduction of roughly $9.75 million per year.

Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman voted last week to place Proposition TD on the April ballot.

Secretary Dan Ottoline Sr. participated in the meeting by telephone. Under the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law, he could not vote because the meeting was not called because of an emergency, according to Hilmer.

Hilmer and Stegman were elected to the board in April 2005 after running a reform campaign in which they pledged to eliminate fiscal waste and roll back a 33-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition S, that voters had approved in November 2004. Since Hilmer and Stegman took office, the board twice has rolled back the district’s tax rate.

In August 2005, the board voted 2-1 with Ottoline opposed to levy four cents of the 33-cent Proposition S tax-rate increase. At the same time, the board reduced the alarm-fund tax levy by four cents. As a result, residents did not see an increase in the district’s tax rate.

In August, the board voted unanimously to set the fiscal 2007 tax rate at 69.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation — 42.8 percent less than the legal maximum of $1.22 per $100 the district could levy and 18.4 percent less than the previous tax rate of 85.5 cents per $100. Mehlville’s tax rate is the lowest of any fire district in St. Louis County.

During a discussion of Proposition TD at the Jan. 3 meeting, Ottoline said, “… I have a question. This TD, is that for total destruction? In the corkscrew tabloid, you about broke your arm patting yourself on the back, saying how the previous board lied to the constituents of the district. Did you not take four cents of that 33 cents last year, or the year before?”

Hilmer said, “Got anything else to add, Dan, before Bonnie goes?”

Ottoline said, “I’m waiting for an answer.”

Hilmer said, “Well, your time’s up. Mrs. Stegman, what do you got …”

Ottoline interjected, “What do you mean my time is up? I didn’t know I had a time.”

Hilmer said, “This isn’t a question and answer, Dan. Do you have any comments to make about the tax decrease?”

Ottoline replied, “Yes. I’ve got several.”

Hilmer said, “Let’s keep coming.”

Ottoline said, “The total destruction of 45 cents is a deceit upon the public. Taxes will not go down. The 45 cents was not levied in the past. It was not used. Do we have what I would call a five-year plan for the future?”

Hilmer said, “I think the public saw your five-year plan. It was called Proposition S, Dan.”

Ottoline interjected, “I’m asking you if you have a five-year plan … Do you have a five-year plan?”

Hilmer replied, “We’ve gone over it many times … What else do you have to add, Dan?”

Ottoline said, “What is it?”

Hilmer said, “I’ll cover it in one of my comments.”

Ottoline said, “Oh, good. The five-year plan, which I don’t believe you have, how are you going to get a tax increase five years from now when you’re gone? Are you going to wait for the board to have to fight for one? The taxpayers aren’t going to approve a tax increase after you destroy this district.”

Hilmer asked, “Anything else?”

Ottoline replied that he had a question for Chief Jim Silvernail.

“Chief Silvernail, do you agree with this total destruction without a five-year plan?” the board secretary asked.

Silvernail replied, “Dan, right now this is the board’s program. Whether I agree or not, you guys are going to have to decide what you want to do with the district.”

Ottoline said, “You know of the district, chief. Do you agree with this?”

Silvernail replied, “I have no comment.”

After Ottoline said he had a question for Comptroller Judy Kreider, who was not present, he asked Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti about the district’s staffing levels.

“… Are we fully staffed, the fifth ambulance running?” Ottoline asked.

Mossotti replied, “The district is fully staffed to the level that the board has established.”

Ottoline said, “The board has established? I didn’t ask you that, Steve. I asked you is the district fully staffed?”

Hilmer said, “Dan, if the board doesn’t decide what fully staffed should be, who is going to decide it? The employees who tried to get you elected?”

Ottoline said, “Yes.”

Hilmer said, “All right. Anything else?”

Ottoline said, “He had more men than we do now.”

Hilmer replied, “That’s why personnel costs are the lowest since the year 2000. That’s why we don’t dole out free health insurance to employees’ kids ’til their 26 any more. That’s why secretaries don’t receive $950-a-year clothing allowances. A lot of things aren’t the way they used to be, Dan. What else do you have to add?”

Ottoline said, “… Boy, you’re a talker. I’ll tell you that much. What are we going to do in five years if we need a sixth ambulance?”

Hilmer replied, “I’m sure the public will be looking for you to run for the board then, Dan.”

Ottoline said, “And I’m hoping that without seeing you.”

Hilmer said, “All right.”

Ottoline attempted to continue, but a female voice came over the speaker phone saying, “Tell that young man to grow up.”

Hilmer said, “This is a board meeting, Dan. Not a meeting of the wives.”

Ottoline said, “That’s all I’ve got under your total destruction plan.”

Noting that she and Hilmer have been in office about 20 months, Stegman said all of the district’s services have been improved during that time. About Proposition TD, she said, “I think that this is just a way of saying we were able to not use that tax. We don’t need it. Why should it be there for someone to decide that they’re going to do whatever they want with? I’ve looked at the plan. We have a continuing plan of building and growing in this department. Hopefully, in the future we’ll be able to do some pay benefits for those firefighter/paramedics who do two jobs and who have training, more training than some of the people, some of the staff, and really deserve a little bit more …”

Hilmer said, “… You know, over the past few days since our last meeting as I’ve thought about Proposition Tax Decrease, I couldn’t help but think of Winston Churchill’s famous quote when he said in reference to the Royal Air Force: ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few.’ And I thought that if we turned that quote on its head to say: ‘Never have so few felt they were owed so much by so many,’ that would describe the sorry state this fire district district had become.

“How does the pendulum swing from serving the public to extorting the public? How did the mantra to protect and serve become: ‘I’m entitled to a six-figure pay package, two months of vacation and a $750,000 check when I retire, and if I don’t get those things, I’m going to sue you?’ Nothing sums it up better, Bonnie, than on the eve of you and I being sworn in, in a final gestalt of greed, the then-board gave the then-chief a contract that paid him for an additional six months of salary and benefits even though he quit working the next day,” he continued.

“It’s clear that a retirement check of nearly a million dollars, a salary larger than the governor of Missouri’s and 73 days off a year was not enough to satiate the greed that lives here. I was also thinking of the date, April 3rd, and how appropriate that date would be for voters to decide on Proposition Tax Decrease as that’s when the clock will have ticked for the final time and the last remnants will be swept away of those who were responsible for the greatest sham in the history of south county, Proposition S,” Hilmer said.

He then made a motion to place Proposition TD on the April 3 ballot. After the motion was seconded by Stegman, Hilmer called for a roll-call vote and declared the motion was approved 2-0.

Ottoline said, “I voted no.”

Hilmer asked, “What’s your wife vote, Dan?”

Hilmer later told the Call that Ottoline was aware he could not cast a vote.

“That issue was brought up to me by someone. Can a director who isn’t physically present vote in a non-emergency setting? Quite honestly, I didn’t have the answer, so I looked up the Sunshine Law,” he said. “And then our attorney (Mathew Hoffman) reviewed it and he had Carla (Juelfs), our district clerk, cover it on the phone with Mr. Ottoline. He was totally aware of the fact he couldn’t vote. We are going to attach to the official minutes of the meeting that section of the Sunshine Law.”