Mehlville Fire Protection District begins community engagement

By Staff Report

The first meeting of a community engagement program sponsored by the Mehlville Fire Protection District will take place next week.

The community engagement program, called the Fire District Advisory Committee for Tomorrow’s Emergency Services, or FACTS, will help chart the district’s future.

FACTS is designed to involve residents in developing recommendations that will provide fire and emergency medical solutions to meet future needs for the entire community. The group will meet two to three times a month until August to study key issues, define the district’s needs and reach consensus on potential solutions.

The first FACTS meeting will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 26, in the Engine Room at the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s headquarters, 11020 Mueller Road, Green Park. Before the meeting, starting at 6 p.m., the facility and equipment will be available for residents to view.

During the meeting, participants will learn more about the FACTS public engagement process and work on a small-group activity that will help determine the direction of FACTS. Future meetings will study the district’s finances, equipment, staffing, facilities and other topics decided by participants.

At the end of the process, participants will present recommendations to the Board of Directors — Chairman Tom O’Driscoll, Treasurer Dan Ottoline Sr. and Secretary David Gralike — for consideration. The FACTS community chairs plan to present recommendations to the board by mid-August.

The Board of Directors recently voted to approve a nearly $35,000 contract with UNICOM/ARC to assist the district in engaging the public in long-range planning that could result in a ballot recommendation to be considered by the board.

The pact includes a public-opinion telephone survey that will cost nearly $15,000 and a professional fee of $20,000 to help the district organize “engagement meetings.”

During a board meeting last week, O’Driscoll announced four members of the public who will serve on a Facilitating Team: Gail Chatfield, a retired state fire marshal; Bill Cocos of Cocos Plumbing Co.; Judith Wideman, branch manager of Coldwell Banker Gundaker; and Dave Sinclair of Sinclair Ford in south county.

“It was UNICOM’s suggestion that we try to get the initial facilitating committee to a smaller number to try to allow them to start the program and establish its direction in terms of educating the larger group of citizenry,” O’Driscoll said. “All of these folks have been contacted and have agreed to donate their time to begin this process and head the facilitating committee as charter members.

“I’m sure that many of you are aware of most of these people and their long-term commitment to our district, and I’m very, very pleased to have them serve on the special facilitating committee,” the board chairman added.

Among the other Facilitating Team members are Gralike, who will serve as liaison to the board; Chief Ray Haddock; representatives of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters; and other district employees and administrators.

UNICOM/ARC will begin the public opinion telephone survey immediately, which will take about a month to complete, according to a recent letter UNICOM/ARC President Rod Wright wrote to Chief Ray Haddock.

“… As we discussed, the essential first step is conducting the public opinion research. The results of the survey are critically important to making decisions about strategy,” Wright’s letter stated. “Given your recent electoral history, though, it is very likely that some type of engagement program will be essential. For that to be completed in time for a November election, we must move quickly.”

The board’s last two ballot measures — a 25-cent tax-rate increase in April 2001 and a 25-cent tax-rate increase in August 2002 — were defeated by voters.

In April 2001, district voters narrowly defeated the proposed 25-cent tax-rate increase for the district’s general fund. That proposal, called Proposition 1, received 7,081 “yes” votes — 49.49 percent — and 7,228 “no” votes — 50.51 percent. In August 2002, Proposition F, which sought to increase the district’s tax rate by 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, received 7,895 “yes” votes — 36.84 percent — and 13,534 “no” votes — 63.16 percent.

In a district news release, Haddock welcomed the public’s involvement in the engagement process.

“It is time for our community to become involved in our fire district. We are opening our doors and we want to hear our residents’ opinions,” he stated in the release, noting that the entire community has been invited to participate in the process.

Anyone interested in participating can register by calling 894-0420, Ext. 1716, or e-mailing