MFPD board OKs ‘blended’ tax rate of 69.7 cents for 2011, up 2.6 cents

Initial budget projects balance of $12.2 million at end of ’12

By MIKE ANTHONY

A 2011 “blended” tax rate of 69.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation was approved last week by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

Board members voted unanimously Sept. 28 to approve the 2011 tax rate, which includes a voluntary rollback of 1 cent in the district’s alarm fund levy.

The “blended” tax rate is not levied, but used for state calculations. The 2011 tax rate is 2.6 cents more than the current rate of 67.1 cents per $100. A story in last week’s Call contained the proposed 2010 “blended” tax rate and not the board-approved rate of 67.1 cents.

The 2011 tax rates for the general, alarm and pension funds are: 62.5 cents, 3.4 cents and 3.8, cents respectively. In April, district voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition S, which consolidated the district’s general fund and ambulance fund into one fund and eliminated the ambulance fund.

The 2010 rates for the general, ambulance, alarm and pension funds are: 39.5 cents, 19.5 cents, 4.3 cents and 3.8 cents, respectively.

Mehlville’s total assessed valuation fell $70,681,726 — to $2,275,040,010 from $2,345,721,736.

During the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Brian Bond told the board, “… The St. Louis County Board of Equalization provided their assessed values on September the 15th and when they provided that information, the assessed values have decreased over $70 million from 2010. That includes a $67 million reduction in real estate values as well as a $3 million reduction in personal property values.

“Because of the decline in the assessed values, there is an opportunity to roll the rate up a few pennies and stay revenue neutral. In other words, we’re still going to bring in the same amount of tax dollars …”

No residents spoke during a public hearing on the proposed 2011 tax rates.

District voters in April 2009 overwhelmingly approved two propositions reducing the fire district’s tax-rate ceiling by a total of 40 cents.

Proposition 1 asked whether the district’s general-fund tax-rate ceiling should be permanently reduced by 36 cents per $100 of assessed of valuation while Proposition 2 asked whether the district’s pension-fund tax-rate ceiling should be permanently reduced by 4 cents per $100.

Approval of the two propositions has resulted in the district not being able to collect nearly $10.5 million in tax revenue annually, according to board Chairman Aaron Hilmer.

Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman first took office in April 2005 after running a campaign in which they pledged to eliminate fiscal waste and roll back Proposition S, a 33-cent tax-rate increase approved in November 2004.

Voter approval of the two tax-decrease measures made permanent what the board had been doing on a voluntary basis since it set the the district’s tax rate in August 2005, essentially rolling back the 33-cent Prop S increase. At that time, the district’s tax-rate ceiling was $1.22.

Bond also discussed the district’s preliminary 2012 budget, which projects revenues of more than $19 million with anticipated expenditures of more than $18.8 million, according to updated numbers presented to the board.

Approval of a final 2012 budget will be considered by the board in December.

The preliminary 2012 budget projects revenues of $19,203,193 with anticipated expenditures of $18,823,280— a surplus of $379,913.

The current budget anticipates revenues of $18,947,446 with projected expenditures of $21,033,000 — a deficit of $2,085,554. The district will not go into the red, but will dip into its reserves.

The projected deficit for 2011 results from the purchase of land for a new No. 3 Firehouse and the construction of that firehouse.

The preliminary 2012 budget proposes to transfer $1.2 million to the capital fund from the general fund, including $590,000 for a pumper and $170,000 for an ambulance, Bond said.

“The 2012 salaries have been calculated to include 2-percent increases that were identified back in 2009 as part of a three-year compensation plan. And again, those

increases are not for all positions — only for certain positions that were identified as part of that salary-adjustment plan,” he said. “The unscheduled overtime has been reduced by $300,000 to reflect the current unscheduled overtime utilization.

“Health insurance premiums have been forecasted to include a 6-percent increase in medical premiums and a 5-percent increase in dental and vision premiums. We won’t have the final figures on those until later in the year, but we believe those are relatively accurate …,” the chief financial officer added.

The preliminary 2012 budget projects a starting fund balance of $11,903,824 on Jan. 1, 2012, and an ending fund balance of $12,283,737 on Dec. 31, 2012.

Hilmer told the Call he believes the district has “comfortable reserves.”

“We’re certainly not sitting on piles of money, but we’re also not borrowing money to make payroll at the end of the year … Are they (the reserves) lower than they were a few years ago? Absolutely, but that was all part of the plan …,” he said.

Mehlville’s 2011 “blended” tax rate of 69.7 cents will be the lowest of any fire district in St. Louis County for the sixth consecutive year, Hilmer said.

“I think residents of south county should be very proud of what we’ve been able to deliver,” he said. “I think they should be very proud of the fact there are a lot of great employees working at Mehlville right now who are really doing the best possible job to serve the public and they’ve got the best equipment to do it …”