Mehlville fire board adjusts hourly wages to conform with new law

Decision of board members on ‘right track,’ former board candidate Skelton says


The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors voted last week to adjust employees’ hourly wages to conform with the state’s new minimum-wage law.

Missouri voters last November approved Proposition B, which increased the state’s minimum wage. The measure also impacted overtime pay for public-safety employees, removing federal standards for such pay.

All Mehlville Fire Protection District employees now will be paid based on a 40-hour work week plus overtime and are required to conduct any requested trade time within the same two-week pay period. Any unresolved trade-time issues now must be resolved 60 days after a resolution approving the pay changes was passed last week.

The Board of Directors voted 3-0 on May 22 to adjust employees’ hourly rates to conform with the minimum-wage law and set the new trade-time restriction.

Annual pay for employees will remain the same as the fire district simply will adjust employees’ wages to be in line with a 40-hour work week and then add their remaining pay as part of overtime. But to ensure all employees stay within the new law, the board chose to require employees to engage in trade time only in the same pay period.

Board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman said rather than eliminate the option of trade time for employees, she and the board believed it was best to limit that function to the same pay period.

“The trade time, that was really the issue,” she said. “Basically, they knew they would come out all right with money because we were going to adjust it so they get the same amount of money no matter how you figured it out. But the trade time is what really was their issue. And we didn’t want to mess anybody up. But at the same time, we had to follow the law. So I think coming up with those little compromises where as long as it didn’t incur overtime instead of like saying: ‘All trade time’s suspended. You can’t trade,’ which obviously we could have said, we didn’t. We said: ‘OK, you can do it within the two weeks and you have to pay it back right away in that same pay period …’ And people that were owed, they’re not just out. We’ll give them a certain length of time to be able to get that paid back.”

Being that the board’s other option was to eliminate trade time, Concord resident Dennis Skelton, who ran unsuccessfully in April as a write-in candidate for the Board of Directors, said at the May 22 meeting that the board’s decision appears to be “on the right track.”

“I hope this can be worked out between the parties man to man, gentleman to gentleman to try to resolve this issue because I think it could be catastrophic to this district if the trade time was done away with, if the pay was adjusted,” Skelton said. “And I know that the Local (1889) went on record back when this whole issue first surfaced that they would be ready, willing and able and did not have a problem with the method of which they were paid and would be, like you, wanting to resolve it somehow by agreement. So it sounds like possibly we’re on the right track, and I just hope everything just stays above board and we continue on this path.”

Although the board voted last week to adjust employees’ hourly pay rate to conform with new state overtime laws, district legal counsel Mathew Hoffman advised the board that a pending lawsuit in Cole County challenging the overtime laws could force the board to essentially undo the resolution approved May 22.

“You guys could consider a resolution to undo this and go back to how it is now,” Hoffman said to the board. “In the meantime, I think that you’re limiting liability going forward, which I know is important to you guys. You’re able to keep trade time within, I think, legal parameters. And it’d be easy to undo. It really would.”

For now, Hoffman said he believes the trade-time requirement within each two-week pay period is a fair option to employees and that it had to be adjusted to ensure the district is operating in a legal manner.

“The state law talks about a work week, and the federal law talks about a work period,” Hoffman said. “So what we did was look at it in a way honestly to try to keep trade time for everybody here that’s using it. And what we came up with is, and I talked with (Local 1889 attorney) Mr. (John) Goffstein today, too, just so everybody knows about his interpretation of this, but what we came up with is trade time within that 14-day period. I know it’s a quick turnaround. But because there’s pay every two weeks, I think it’s feasible that it doesn’t violate the law by accomplishing it within the pay period. In other words, you give one day, you get one day …

“Then the other issue that was out there … is people that are owed hours in the past. And Bonnie and I had a chance to talk last night, and I know that was important to her, too. So in here, we have talked about and proposed a 60-day period for people to trade back. And in the future, probably, if this is something you guys consider, it’s a pretty quick turnaround. So there probably won’t be big issues. That’s more of an operational question. But if you’re giving it and paying it back in a pretty short time, that may not be an issue going forward.”

The Board of Directors also discussed developing a request for proposals and a design plan to construct the district’s new No. 2 firehouse.

In April, the district acquired a roughly 1-acre parcel for $600,000 at the northeast corner of Telegraph Road and Whitshire Drive that eventually will be the site of the new firehouse. District officials have said the existing No. 2 firehouse, which was built in the 1950s in the 5600 block of Telegraph Road, is deteriorating and needs to be replaced.

Board Secretary Ed Ryan and Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti already have toured a number of local fire stations and are working together to develop a viable but conservative design plan. That plan and an RFP could be considered as soon as the board’s next meeting, which is set for June 14.

At this point, Ryan said the design for the new firehouse is wide open in terms of its appearance and the companies that might bid for its construction.

“The RFP is pretty generic,” Ryan said. “If we say total square footage, that’s when we’re using the most recent building as a beginning point, which can go both backwards and forwards from that, their proposals and their expertise. And we wanted to start … I have a list of companies, but I’m certainly open to any other companies we have. Certainly, I’ve talked to the chief (Jim Silvernail) about organizations that have built new fire stations in west county, St. Charles, even one guy called me and said he built one in Columbia, Mo. … I think the ball’s rolling and hopefully we move a little faster so we start scheduling something once a week. And I don’t think we’re too far off on the RFP.”