South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville fire board votes to nix mandatory inspections

Aaron Hilmer
Aaron Hilmer

Mandatory inspections of new one- and two-family dwellings during construction have been eliminated by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors voted 2-1 Friday morning to eliminate the mandatory inspections that have been performed by the district since 1954.

Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman voted to eliminate the inspections. Secretary Dan Ottoline was opposed.

But the board’s action provides that the inspections of new one- and two-family dwellings will be performed on a voluntary basis if requested by contractors or homeowners. Furthermore, the voluntary inspections will be conducted at a reduced cost. Fire Marshal Ed Berkel recommended that the inspection fee for a new residence be $250 — compared to the district’s average 2004 cost of $341.57.

The inspection issue first was raised in January when a representative of the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis and Eastern Missouri proposed the district eliminate its current practice of inspecting new one- and two-family dwellings during construction. Because St. Louis County also conducts such inspections, the ones performed by Mehlville are a duplication of services, Anne Mehochko, senior assistant staff vice president of governmental affairs for the Home Builders Association, told the board Jan. 20.

The issue again was discussed by the Mehlville board on Feb. 23, and Mehochko noted that the previous night the West County EMS and Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors had adopted a resolution eliminating the inspections on one- and two-family dwellings as well as site-development review.

On Friday, Hilmer said, “… Ed (Berkel) has made some changes here where we will still offer the inspections. They’ll be on a voluntary rather than a mandatory basis. That way if a resident or a builder would like to have an inspection, we’ll do it. And also we’ve lowered the fees to make it more accessible …”

Hilmer then asked if board members had any questions for Berkel about the proposed ordinances.

Ottoline said, “To begin with, sir, since you two have received $20,000 (for) your election from the Home Builders, I think you two should eliminate yourselves from voting on this or any question along these lines.”

After Hilmer made a motion to eliminate the inspections, Ottoline said, “Along those lines, sir, I have a list from 2005, 97 inspections made by the fire district against home builders. That averages out, maybe, how many a month? Eight a month — almost eight a month. I am sure that money is not the problem. The inspections is their problem — fire department finding fault or finding things that should be changed or done according to the code. I think these are the problems with the Home Builders, and I think for the safety of the residents and the taxpayers, I think we should stay the way we are.”

Stegman said, “That’s fine, but we are still offering that, so anybody that wants that service …”

Ottoline interjected, “Only if they — only if the person wants it …”

Stegman said, “Right. Well, if you don’t want a service, then you shouldn’t be forced to purchase it.”

Ottoline said, “… Along those lines, though, if they don’t know?”

Stegman interjected, “They will be told that it is available …”

Ottoline asked, “Who’s going to tell them?”

Stegman said, “That’s part of the paperwork that we’re drawing up in the ordinances …”

Ottoline interjected, “The Home Builders will tell them that?”

Hilmer said, “All right, let’s take a vote on that then.”

The Board of Directors voted 2-1 to eliminate the mandatory inspections, but offer them on a voluntary basis at a reduced cost. Ottoline was opposed.

During a period for public comment, Maureen Maag, wife of MFPD Capt. Dennis Maag, asked if the fire district was covering its costs with the reduced price of the inspections.

Stegman said, “We never did cover our costs. Even before this, we never covered the costs.”

Maag also asked how homeowners would be informed about the availability of the inspections.

Stegman said, “… When you go and do all your paperwork for your housing, it will have to be offered at that time. We’ll work out some paperwork so that offer is there so they know it’s available, and then we’ll make that information available also.”

Maag said, “So they’ll have an option whether they want a fire inspection or not?”

Stegman said, “Yes.”

Ottoline said, “If I may add, you made a statement that we never did cover our costs?”

Stegman said, “Right.”

Ottoline said to Berkel, “Ed, when we changed the costs … we covered our cost.”

Berkel said, “Ninety-five percent.”

A political action committee, Friends of the Fire District, was formed by some Home Builders Association members and contributed $20,000 to the South County Citizens for Reform, a committee that supported Hilmer and Stegman in their election bids in April 2005.

Asked about Ottoline’s assertion that he and Stegman should have refrained from voting on eliminating the inspections, Hilmer told the Call, “This issue’s been in the public’s eye for over a year since before Bonnie and myself were elected. As I’ve stated before, what we have done with the inspections is we have streamlined government. In fact, I believe we allowed it to stay in effect if someone wanted to voluntarily do it, but we removed the mandatory (requirement for such inspections),” Hilmer said.

“I think Mrs. Stegman summed it up well in the meeting when she said that if you don’t want a service, then you shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. But no, the donation had no effect on the vote,” he said.

Hilmer also emphasized that the inspections still will be performed on a voluntary basis if they’re requested.

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