Mehlville fire board to vote on placing tax-rate decrease on ballot

Prop TD an opportunity to fix a past mistake, Hilmer says

By MIKE ANTHONY

A proposal to place a tax-rate decrease on the April 3 ballot will be considered Wednesday, Jan. 3, by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors will consider placing Proposition TD, or Tax Decrease, on the April 3 ballot when it meets at 7 p.m. in the district’s Training Facility, 11020 Mueller Road.

At a Board of Directors meeting last week, Chairman Aaron Hilmer unveiled his proposal to place before voters the proposition to permanently reduce the district’s general-fund tax-rate ceiling by 45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which would equate to a total tax reduction of roughly $9.75 million per year.

Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman were elected to the Board of Directors in April 2005 after running a reform campaign in which they pledged to eliminate fiscal waste and roll back a 33-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition S, that voters had approved in November 2004.

The 36.5-percent tax-rate increase was formulated by the Fire District Advisory Committee for Tomorrow’s Emergency Services, or FACTS, during a two-month public-engagement process and was designed to address the fire district’s needs for the next five years.

As first reported by the Call last week, Hilmer, who repeatedly has termed Proposition S “the greatest sham ever laid on the voters of south county,” said that Proposition TD “goes above and beyond Prop S. Not only does it eradicate the 33-cent increase, it also eliminates another 12 cents of levy. That’s an additional 36-percent reduction.”

In unveiling Proposition TD at the Dec. 29 Board of Directors meeting, Hilmer said, “You know, as I was putting this together, I was wondering how many times in life that people wish you could go back in time, undo and fix a past mistake, but how few times life affords us those opportunities. Over the past 20 months, I’ve heard from so many residents who are upset over Proposition S. They felt they were sold something under the guise of a matter of life or death.

“But now it’s clear it was nothing more than a greedy money grab and would not have benefited the taxpayers, only the tax-getters. So, Bonnie, I was wondering, how do we begin to make reparations for such senseless acts? And that’s where Proposition Tax Decrease comes in. This is the residents’ chance to go back in time, undo and fix a past mistake.

“For the first time ever, they will be empowered to lower their tax levy. The ballot language in front of you is simple, and I can think of nearly 10 million reasons why we should vote to put this on the April 3 ballot,” he said.

The board chairman said he would have the district’s legal counsel, Mathew Hoffman, review the proposed ballot language for Proposition TD, and the board would consider placing the proposition on the April 3 ballot when it meets Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Board Secretary Dan Ottoline Sr. criticized Hilmer for discussing Proposition TD with the Call, saying he was unaware of the proposal until he read about it in the newspaper.

“My only problem is, sir, why did I have to read it in the corkscrew tabloid? You shot your mouth off to him before you even talked to the board — unless Bonnie already knew about it. I don’t know,” Ottoline said. “I think as a courtesy you should talk to the board first rather than read it in the paper.”

Hilmer said, “Humph.”

Ottoline said, “Humph. That’s what I say. Humph.”

“All right, anything else?” Hilmer asked as the board moved to the next agenda item.

Since Hilmer and Stegman took office, the Board of Directors twice has voted to voluntarily roll back the district’s tax rate.

In August 2005, the board voted 2-1 with Ottoline opposed to levy only four cents of the 33-cent Proposition S tax-rate increase.

At the same time, the board reduced the alarm-fund tax levy by four cents. As a result, residents did not see an increase in the district’s tax rate.

In August, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to set the district’s fiscal 2007 tax rate at 69.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The “blended” fiscal 2007 tax rate — a combination of the district’s separate tax rates for residential, agricultural, commercial and personal property — of 69.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation is 42.8 percent less than the legal maximum of $1.22 per $100 the district could levy and 18.4 percent less than the previous tax rate of 85.5 cents per $100. Mehlville’s tax rate is the lowest of any fire district in St. Louis County.

In doing research leading up to Proposition TD, Hilmer discovered that voters who reside within the boundaries of the Mehlville Fire Protection District have been asked 94 times in the past 19 years to approve some sort of additional taxation.

By taxing district, the number of proposals placed before voters since April 1988 include:

• St. Louis County — 27 times.

• Mehlville School District — 15 times.

• Sunset Hills — 13 times.

• Lindbergh School District — 11 times.

• State of Missouri — 11 times.

• St. George — seven times.

• Green Park — six times.

• Mehlville Fire Protection District — four times.

Hilmer previously told the Call that he believes Proposition TD not only will provide voters an opportunity to permanently reduce the fire district’s tax rate by nearly $10 million annually, but also will allow them to make a statement — “a statement to other south county and surrounding governments, such as school districts, as to how limited government can and should operate and tell them they are tired of these incessant tax proposals.”