Hearing set Friday on proposal to hike MFPD tax rate by 7.4 cents

Board chairman outlines his reasons for proposing to roll up MFPD tax rate.


A public hearing will be conducted Friday, Sept. 24, by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors on a proposed 2010 tax rate of 66.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. at the district’s headquarters, 11020 Mueller Road, Green Park.

The proposed blended tax rate of 66.7 cents per $100 is 7.4 cents more than the current tax rate of 59.3 cents per $100. The proposed 2010 tax rate is the maximum that can be levied by the district.

District voters in April 2009 overwhelmingly approved two propositions reducing the fire district’s tax-rate ceiling by a total of 40 cents.

Approval of Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 has resulted in the district not being able to collect nearly $10.5 million in tax revenue annually, according to Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer.

Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman first took office in April 2005 after running a campaign in which they pledged to eliminate fiscal waste and roll back Proposition S, a 33-cent tax-rate increase approved in November 2004. Voter approval of the two tax-decrease measures made permanent what the board had been doing on a voluntary basis since it set the the district’s tax rate in August 2005, essentially rolling back the 33-cent Prop S increase.

At that time, the district’s tax-rate ceiling was $1.22.

As proposed, the 2010 tax rates for the general, ambulance, alarm and pension funds are: 39.5, 19.2, 4.2 and 3.8, respectively. The current rates for the general, ambulance, alarm and pension funds are: 42.7 cents, 10.8 cents, 2.6 cents and 3.2 cents, respectively.

The proposed blended tax rate of 66.7 cents is not assessed, but is a combination of four tax rates — residential property, commercial property, agricultural property and personal property.

During a Board of Directors meeting Friday, Hilmer outlined why he is proposing to roll up the district’s tax rate.

“There’s a few reasons why I’m proposing we roll our rate up. No. 1, we need to roll it up because of the declining assessed values … The total tax base we can levy off of has gone down in value. So when you roll it up, we’re not getting any more tax dollars,” he said. “Some people look at it as a tax increase and certainly I can see their point because the rate’s gone up, but the money we’re bringing in hasn’t changed.”

The assessed valuation of all property in the district decreased by $27,174,100 — to $2,351,202,676 from $2,378,376,776, according to updated numbers from the county Board of Equalization. That decline includes a significant drop in the assessed valuation of personal property.

The board chairman also cited a decline in interest earned on the district’s reserves.

“… You can see that our total interest revenue on our reserves is going to drop by almost $250,000. So that’s one thing where we need to take a little more money to make up for that,” Hilmer said.

Another reason to roll up the tax rate is to help fund the district’s increased staffing levels, including operating a sixth ambulance, he said.

“… When we voted almost a couple of years ago to do those increased staffing levels, we’re finally at those levels … We’ve been running the sixth ambulance now when it’s able to be staffed and starting on the beginning of the year, we plan on a lot more staff,” Hilmer said, noting Chief Tim White soon will present a report to the board on staffing levels and the sixth ambulance.

“That’s a pretty exciting thing. We’re not only the only fire district in the state who runs a fifth ambulance full time, we’re now on the cusp of having that sixth ambulance near to full time and so there’s a little more cost obviously with another ambulance and then the personnel in it,” he said.

Construction of a new No. 3 firehouse on South Lindbergh Boulevard is another reason to roll up the district’s tax rate, Hilmer said. At the board’s Sept. 10 meeting, Hilmer asked Greg Garner of Archimages, which is providing architectural and engineering services to design the new firehouse, whether it would make more sense to delay construction and “squirrel away money for a few years.”

But Garner noted Sept. 10 that construction costs, including materials and labor, have “bottomed out” and will increase in the future.

Hilmer agreed with Garner’s assessment, saying,”… It’s not going to go down appreciably any more. We’re not earning any money on our savings. So between a combination of spending some money in our reserves and taking a couple of extra pennies, we’ll be able to build that building (and) training center, and the firehouse and the land, it will be paid for debt free then. There will be no legacy cost to it.”

The final reason why the tax rate should be rolled up, Hilmer said, is because of Senate Bill 711. SB 711 stipulates that a tax rate set in a nonreassessment year becomes the tax-rate ceiling in a reassessment year.

“… Wherever you set your ceiling at — even like we’ve always done is kept it below where we needed to — in the following year if you run across a situation where, hey, we need to buy a fire truck. We need to do something else. We can’t go back above that ceiling … Really I think it handcuffs people who are fiscally prudent. So there’s nothing says next year we can’t roll it down … We don’t know what exactly our capital expenditures will be next year. We don’t want to handcuff ourselves into that …,” he said.

In a separate matter Friday, the board voted unanimously to accept White’s recommendation to terminate fire/medic Will Cassidy’s employment with the district.

District officials declined to comment on the vote, saying it was a personnel matter. Capt. Nick Fahs, president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, also declined to comment. He said Monday morning, “We haven’t been officially told anything yet.”