Mehlville fire district proposal could save Crestwood $200,000 per year

City would see more services and save money, Hilmer says

By BURKE WASSON

As the Mehlville Fire Protection District has expanded services and dropped its tax rate to the lowest among all county fire districts, Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer believes it’s time to spread those benefits to other areas, specifically Crestwood.

In a letter that Hilmer sent last week to Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson and the Board of Aldermen, he proposes that the city contract its fire and ambulance services with Mehlville. Besides the increased services to Crestwood residents that Hilmer has proposed, he estimates that such a contract with Mehlville would save more than $200,000 per year for Crestwood.

“Based on your 2007 fire budget of $2,327,000 ($2,632,000 total fire budget and subtracting the $305,000 in current contracted fire), I believe we can deliver the above fire, EMS (emergency medical services) and dispatching services for approximately $2,100,000,” Hilmer wrote. “If achieved, this would represent a savings to the city of Crestwood of over $200,000 every year.”

Besides the estimated $200,000 annual savings for the city, Hilmer told the Call he believes that the true benefit of Crestwood contracting with Mehlville would be in-creased benefits like ambulance service.

A private ambulance company currently provides transport to the hospital when needed by city residents.

“If I’m to tell a citizen something, I’d say you’re going to get better services …,” Hilmer said. “This is just trying to open a dialogue with the city. They’re going to get better services at a cheaper price.”

Hilmer also said that existing firefighters in Crestwood would be given opportunities to retain employment with Mehlville.

“We’re looking for a chance to sit down with the fire chief (Karl Kestler) because we want to look at utilizing their existing personnel,” Hilmer said. “This is not meant to come in and see how many people we can get fired from Crestwood.

“There’s a lot of good, experienced employees over there. We want to see how can we utilize those people to have them come work for Mehlville while we’re being contracted with Crestwood.”

The annexed area of Crestwood that is served by the Affton Fire Protection District would be unaffected by Hilmer’s proposal. The city’s 2007 budget included $305,000 for services provided by Affton.

As part of Hilmer’s annual $2.1 million proposal to provide fire and EMS services to Crestwood, the city would have an ambulance stored in its firehouse, which is not something that the city currently enjoys.

Among the services offered to the city in Hilmer’s letter are:

• A “full-time ALS (Advanced Life Support) pumper and ALS ambulance stationed in your firehouse …”

• “Greater coverage accomplished by five other additional pieces of ALS apparatus stationed within three to five miles of the city that can provide more advanced medical life support to your residents …”

• “Fifty-three percent of Crestwood’s population is 62 years or older. In 2006, 66 percent of 911 calls were medical and yet, as you are aware, the city does not have its own ambulance. MFPD will be able to offer a quicker and more comprehensive ALS ambulance response than presently afforded …”

• “MFPD has an ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of 3 compared to Crestwood’s 4. We will work to get this lower rating extended to Crestwood if MFPD is contracted for services. This will help provide lower commercial insurance rates, which will be a benefit as the city looks to redevelop commercial areas.”

Hilmer told the Call that with Mehlville firehouses as near as Sunset Hills and Green Park, Crestwood residents would have additional protection readily available if needed.

“We will park in their firehouse an ALS-equipped pumper fire truck and an ALS-equipped ambulance,” Hilmer said. “If for some reason they ever need any further medical backup, within three to five miles we have House 5 (on Mueller Road in Green Park), where we have three pieces of ALS equipment — an ambulance, a pumper and a heavy-duty rescue squad.

“And then with House 3 right on the corner of Sappington (Road) and Lindbergh (Boulevard), we have another ALS ambulance and an ALS pumper …”

“What I’m getting at is these are all things that aren’t coming into Crestwood now if they need them. I think that’s huge … They’re going to have a much greater depth of service available to them. That’s evidenced by the fact that we have seven other firehouses,” Hilmer said. “We run seven ALS pumpers. We have five ALS ambulances. We’re the only fire district or fire department in all of eastern Missouri that has a full-time, ALS-equipped, heavy-duty rescue squad. So these are all assets they’re going to get as part of the deal.”

As for why Crestwood is first on Hilmer’s mind when it comes to spreading the Mehlville fire district’s services to more areas, he said that the city’s proximity to the district’s current boundaries and Crestwood’s recent “financial issues” make the city a natural fit.

“In 2005, (MFPD board Treasurer) Bonnie Stegman got elected to the Mehlville fire board,” Hilmer said. “At the time she was elected, the tax rate was supposed to be $1.21 per $100 of assessed valuation.

“She since has cut it to 59 cents (per $100 of assessed valuation). Mehlville has now the lowest fire-district tax rate in all of St. Louis County. We’re looking to spread that to other areas.

“Crestwood is a natural fit because they are so close in proximity and it’s no secret that Crestwood is having a few financial issues. And I felt that that would be the first one to approach.”

But more than that, Hilmer said he is looking to provide Crestwood residents with an opportunity to enjoy increased services in a fiscally responsible manner.

“I think it’s really just the opening of a dialogue,” Hilmer said. “The final bid, if their board wishes to proceed to a final bid, will cover all those questions as far as staff and utilization of existing employees, long-term contract, et cetera … This is a chance through their elected representatives for the people who are paying the bills over there to decide what type of service they want at what cost. And that’s what it comes down to.”

With county residents recently receiving property-tax increases through reassessment, Hilmer said he challenges Crest-wood officials — as well as the city’s residents — to look for methods to help ease that financial burden. One such method, Hilmer believes, is his proposal.

“To the residents that are struggling with a 30-percent property-tax increase, the higher reassessment, raging inflation, I hope they show up at their next Board of Aldermen meeting and ask their leaders what are they doing about this situation,” Hilmer said. “Are they taking a leadership position and being proactive in the future?”