Two of the three candidates seeking election to a seat on the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors in April believe the district is better off today than six years ago.
The third candidate, Michael Klund, believes the fire district is “in a shamble.”
The three candidates — Klund of Lemay, R.L. Praprotnik of Concord and incumbent Aaron Hilmer of Oakville — spoke last week to members of the Tesson Ferry Republican Club.
A fourth candidate, former Mehlville firefighter Keith Floyd of Oakville, no longer is on the April 5 ballot. Floyd obtained a court order earlier this month that removed his name from the ballot.
Klund, Praprotnik and Hilmer are vying for a board seat that carries a six-year term. Hilmer, who serves as board chairman, first was elected to the board in April 2005 with Bonnie Stegman after campaigning on a reform platform, vowing to eliminate fiscal waste while improving services.
At the Feb. 10 meeting, the candidates addressed club members in ballot order and then responded to questions, including whether they believe the fire district is better off today than six years ago.
Praprotnik said, “I personally think we are … I think we owe a great deal of credit to Aaron and to Bonnie for their work on this board and I think it’s a great thing.”
Klund said, “I for one, do not. I believe it started out very well and now I believe it’s in a shamble.”
Hilmer said, “Yeah, we’ve got the best services in St. Louis County, we’ve got the newest equipment and we have the lowest tax rate. What’s there not to like about it?”
The candidates were asked if they have or will accept campaign contributions from the firefighters’ union.
Klund said, “Yes, I will.”
Praprotnik said, “No, I will not.”
Hilmer said, “I don’t think they’d give them to me. But if they would, I wouldn’t take them.”
During his presentation, Klund told club members, “… I’ve attended most every board meeting for the past three years. I was born and raised in Mehlville and I supported Bonnie and Aaron when they ran the first time. After a couple years of seeing what was going on … the reform, that’s a simple word, but I thought it was good. Their basis was good. Their communication was terrible.
“… I have issues with their spending habits. I have issues with what they write in the paper. They say they lowered our taxes one week. They didn’t raise our taxes the next week. They raised our taxes 13 percent the past two years. Plus they have taken money out of reserves. To take quotes from no on Prop C, they’re building firehouses in the worst economy in 80 years … We bought a rescue truck. It says that they researched it. (Board Secretary) Ed Ryan brought up we need to research it. We need to get bids. They did not,” Klund said.
“… The rescue truck, it wasn’t due for a year and a half. We have two ambulances that were slated to be replaced. They got put on a back burner. That’s safety. It’s not a high-profile item. You can’t put a big picture of it on the paper, but it’s something we need, and that’s about all I have …”
Praprotnik said, “… I believe that the present board has done a terrific job, oh since 2005, and I want to hopefully continue that, see to it that that board continues their service to the taxpayers of this district. I am totally for the taxpayers and I know there’s a strong union there, but any person that’s affiliated with the union need not apply because I think that’s a conflict of interest …”
A 1968 graduate of Washington University, he said he serves as president of R.L. Praprotnik & Associates, an architectural firm he has operated for 33 years.
Noting he addressed the club when he first ran for the fire board six years ago, Hilmer said, “… I know you thought we were just a little bit out there when I told you that when we were elected I would improve your services, repair the infrastructure and while doing all that, cut your tax rate by 36 percent.
“I remember your late club member Joe Matuszak. Joe pulled me aside afterwards. He had a big grin on his face and he asked me one simple question. He goes: Do you really think you can win, though? And I said: Joe, I don’t know, but I will not live to be an old man full of regrets I didn’t try.
“And after what you’ve read in the Call Newspapers for the last six years, the 25 different lawsuits and threats the Mehlville firefighters’ union has filed against us, the thugs, the bullies, the union vice president arrested at your firehouse on Mueller Road, convicted, sentenced to prison for life for murder, you’re thinking: Aaron, you must regret ever volunteering for this community.
“Like Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra said: Regrets? I’ve got a few, but then again, too few to mention. And he ends his song by saying: I did it my way. And it’s clear that my way was not what the entrenched bureaucrats and public-sector unions wanted ….
“When I got to Mehlville, 80 percent of 911 calls were medical related. Yet sadly, only 20 percent of the work force were trained to respond to them. I said my way is to innovate and adapt, and since then we have doubled the amount of paramedics. And instead of four vehicles with a medic on them, there are 14 to serve you,” he said. “In fact, the demand is so tremendous to work at Mehlville, we recently had one job opening. We had 135 applicants for that opening …”
Since being elected, the district has done more with less, Hilmer continued.
“… And since then, we’ve built three new firehouses with a fourth on the way. We bought four new fire trucks and a rescue squad, six new ambulances — all paid for with cash, all while we’ve cut your tax rate in half. I’ve shown that it’s possible for limited government to provide necessary services at a reasonable cost …”
Besides changing the district’s pension plan to a defined-contribution plan from a defined-benefit plan, Hilmer cited cost-cutting reforms to workers’ compensation and health insurance. He also noted that voters in April 2009 overwhelmingly approved two measures that reduced the district’s tax-rate ceiling by a total of 40 cents.
“… I wanted to let voters vote to decrease their property taxes. The union sued. They said: It’s against state law to decrease your property tax rate. I said: That’s not the kind of state that I want to live in. So we went to Jeff City and we changed that law. And in 2009, voters overwhelmingly approved $10 million a year, every year, in property-tax reductions. Because of all that, I’m not here tonight to tell you what I will fix when I’m elected. You know what we fixed. I don’t need to tell you what I will do for you. You know what we’ve done. But I do want to report in on behalf of Bonnie Stegman and Ed Ryan, without whom none of this would have been possible. It’s six years after we first met, I have fulfilled every campaign promise and vow I made to you and more.
“And the reform has been accomplished and mission accomplished …,’ Hilmer said.