For fire district, 10 years makes quite a difference

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

What a difference 10 years makes.

When the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors voted to set the district’s tax rate in 2005, it “faced loud protests from an overcrowded room of residents and firefighters and their families,” the Call reported at that time.

The crowd was upset that the board opted not to apply a 33-cent tax-rate increase approved by voters in November 2004, instead setting the district’s blended tax rate at 86.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The vote was not unanimous, as then-board Secretary Dan Ottoline was opposed. But Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman, both of whom were elected in April 2005, had promised voters that they would roll back the 33-cent tax-rate increase.

Ten years ago, those who opposed Hilmer and Stegman made all sorts of dire predictions about what would happen if the two were elected to the fire board. Such claims included:

• “Hilmer and Stegman cannot ROLL BACK the taxes and improve your service. They are lying. They WILL CUT YOUR SERVICES and you will have reduced EMS and Fire service.”

• “Your property values will decrease when the HBA (Home Builders Association), Hilmer and Stegman destroy and eliminate your fire district.”

Yet, in the ensuing 10 years, four new firehouses have been built, starting with Engine House No. 1, 3241 Lemay Ferry Road. Work on that firehouse began under a previous board, but was completed after Hilmer and Stegman took office.

Under the current board — Hilmer, Stegman and Secretary Ed Ryan, who was first elected in April 2007 — three more firehouses have been constructed: Engine House No. 2 at 5434 Telegraph Road in 2009, Engine House No. 4 at 13117 Tesson Ferry Road in 2011 and Engine House No. 3 at 4811 S. Lindbergh Blvd. in 2012.

What’s remarkable is all four of the new firehouses have been constructed without a tax-rate increase or bond issue — no legacy debt whatsoever.

Contrary to opponents’ claims, the fire district has expanded its services over the past 10 years, including offering advanced life support capabilities from district pumpers and operating a sixth ambulance.

The board voted unanimously last week to set the district’s 2015 blended tax rate at 70 cents per $100. The only member of the public to attend the meeting was this writer.

What a difference 10 years makes.