Hearing set Aug. 30 for Mehlville fire district’s revised 2008 tax rate

Board votes unanimously to OK pay differential for firefighter/paramedics

By MIKE ANTHONY

A public hearing on a revised fiscal 2008 tax rate of 60.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation will be conducted today — Aug. 30 — by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors voted Aug. 21 to establish a “blended” fiscal 2008 tax rate of 59.6 cents per $100, but learned the next day county officials had revised the district’s total assessed valuation. The district’s assessed valuation decreased by roughly $50.7 million — to $2.5 billion from $2.551 billion.

As a result, the Board of Directors will conduct a public hearing on the revised fiscal 2008 tax rate at 5 p.m. today at district headquarters, 11020 Mueller Road.

The “blended” fiscal 2008 tax rate of 60.9 cents per $100 that will be considered today by the Board of Directors is 42.1 percent less than the legal maximum of $1.05 the board could levy and 12.8 percent less than the current rate of 69.8 cents per $100.

The “blended” tax rate is a combination of four tax rates — residential property, commercial property, agricultural property and personal property.

As proposed, the revised “blended” fiscal 2008 tax rate breaks down as follows:

• General fund — 40.6 cents. The current levy is 45 cents.

• Ambulance fund — 10.2 cents. The current levy is 14 cents.

• Alarm fund — 2.5 cents. The current levy is 2 cents.

• Pension fund — 7.6 cents. The current levy is 8.8 cents.

“These numbers were revised because of the amount of people who had appealed their reassessments. So our assessment numbers went down about $50 million. So we’re going to have to adjust our tax rate …,” Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer told the Call Friday.

During the Aug. 21 hearing, resident Jim Stonebraker addressed the board about the fiscal 2008 tax rate.

“I’d like to thank the board for keeping the tax rates low … In light of the 30-percent reassessments and (with) virtually every other political subdivision such as the school districts, Metropolitan Sewer District and others just dying to raise our taxes, I commend you gentlemen and ladies for lowering our taxes and operating our district in the interest of the taxpayers,” said Stonebraker, a former member of the Lemay Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

Regarding the revised tax rate, Hilmer told the Call the preliminary 2008 budget would remain unchanged as roughly the same amount or revenue would be collected.

Of the proposed tax rate of 60.9 cents, he said, “We’re building a brand-new firehouse next year out of that tax rate. I think that’s pretty incredible that we’re doing such a large capital-improvement project, paying for it with cash, while giving the lowest tax rate (of any fire protection district) in the county.”

The preliminary 2008 budget anticipates total revenue of $20,497,273 with projected expenditures of $20,732,121 — a deficit of $234,848. The district would not go into the red, however, but would dip into its reserves.

The preliminary budget estimates the district will begin fiscal 2008 with a fund balance of $21,090,669 and end the year with a fund balance of $20,855,821.

Though the preliminary fiscal 2007 budget projects a deficit, Hilmer previously told the Call that the projected deficit could change drastically before the board adopts a final budget in December.

For example, the preliminary 2007 budget presented to the board in August 2006 projected a deficit of more than $400,000. But when the board approved the budget in December, a surplus of more than $370,000 was projected.

In other business during the Aug. 21 meeting, the Board of Directors voted unanimously:

• To eliminate contributions to the fire district’s 401(a) defined-contribution retirement plan. The nearly $70,000 will be used to help shore up the district’s defined-benefit pension plan, which currently has an unfunded actuarial accrued liability of more than $5.8 million.

Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters filed a lawsuit against the Board of Directors in March 2006 after the board voted 2-1 to adopt an amendment and two resolutions changing the district’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman voted in favor of the motions while former Secretary Dan Ottoline Sr. was opposed.

“… This approximately $70,000 a year will then be used to increase the contributions to the underfunded defined-benefit pension plan,” Hilmer said Aug. 21.

• To approve a revised vacation schedule. Under the revised vacation schedule, the maximum number of vacation days will be 16 shift days instead of 20 shift days. In addition, new employees will receive two shift days of vacation after one year on the job. The revised vacation schedule is effective Sept. 1.

• To approve a pay differential for firefighter/paramedics of roughly 61 cents per hour, which equals about $2,000 per year.

Also included in the motion were $2,000 salary increases for the district comptroller and district clerk and 2-percent pay raises for the district accountant and the district purchaser. All of the salary increases are effective Jan. 1.