POP founder opposes tax decrease

Others speak in support of fire district proposal

By MIKE ANTHONY

The founder of Protecting Our Protectors last week expressed his opposition to the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Proposition TD, or Tax Decrease, that voters will consider April 3.

But Dennis Skelton, founder of Protecting Our Protectors, or POP, was the only resident to voice opposition to Proposition TD during a period for public comment at the Jan. 3 meeting of the Board of Directors. Four other residents, including the president of the Green Park Chamber of Commerce, expressed their support for Proposition TD.

Board members had voted earlier that night to place Proposition TD on the April 3 ballot. If approved by a simple majority of voters, the district’s general-fund tax-rate ceiling would be permanently reduced by 45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which would equate to a total tax reduction of roughly $9.75 million per year.

Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman voted to place Proposition TD on the ballot. The two were elected to the board 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.

Secretary Dan Ottoline participated in the meeting by telephone and was unable to vote under the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law.

During the board’s discussion, Ottoline voiced opposition to Proposition TD, questioning whether TD stood for “total destruction” and doubting whether voters would approve a tax-rate increase in the future if the district needed additional revenue.

Skelton later said he agreed with Otto-line. In 2005, Skelton founded POP, “a concerned group of citizens who support the firefighters and paramedics of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.”

“… I think this tax-decrease measure is nothing more than an attempt to draw people to the polls in what would be normally a very low turnout when, in fact, you can set the tax rate at anything you want,” Skelton said. “If you wanted … to decrease it by 45 cents, you could have done it without handicapping this district to say at some point in time if we do need something else, if we do need it — because I agree with Mr. Ottoline 100 percent, once you give … that back to the taxpayers, and don’t misunderstand me, I’m not about big taxes. I’m not about big government — the problem I have is when it comes time and we need it, will we be able to get it back? And my honest belief knowing a little bit about politics is the answer is no …”

Green Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Smoot thanked Hilmer and Stegman for keeping the promises they made.

“… The city of Green Park has more than 300 small businesses. Small-business owners, family businesses have been the backbone of the free-enterprise economy. Small business provides more new job opportunities than any other industry, and yet they pay the lion’s share of taxes and the harder they work, the more they are penalized with more taxes,” Smoot said.

“These mom-and-pop operators fight a battle every day just to survive and pay their employees,” he said. “It’s time for the small-business owner and the hard-working families of south county, the single-parent families, the senior citizens to get a break. Tonight you have given the opportunity to inspire the voters to take back their fire district permanently. As community leaders, I believe you had made history in south county, the state of Missouri and, quite possibly, the entire country by placing a tax decrease on the April ballot.

“On behalf of the Green Park Chamber of Commerce, I want to thank you for all your hard work, your courage, your personal sacrifices and for keeping your promise to voters. Remember, this is the land of the free and not land of the government …”

Residents Felix Washburn and Joe Kenny also spoke in support of Proposition TD and the fiscal management exercised by Hilmer and Stegman.

Resident Ed Ryan of the South County Citizens for Public Reform also complimented Stegman and Hilmer for fulfilling the promises they made to voters.

On Friday, Ryan filed for a seat on the Board of Directors now held by Ottoline that is up for election April 3.

“… Before your coming on board, no one was there to do the right thing. The size and scope of greed is beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and what was once a proud tradition is certainly not something they can be proud of today,” Ryan said. “Your proposed tax rollback is not just local good news, this is national news. For once, the taxpayer is respected. Due to changes that you have made … I feel that the taxpayers are finally being treated with respect. You said that in election promises and you have fulfilled. But I have to say and emphasize that in my 45 years of paying taxes, I have never seen anything like what you have accomplished.

“Over the past seven or so years, the Call Newspaper and other local newspapers have identified many areas of excessive expenditures and benefits, salaries, retirement packages for the employees. We taxpayers were really ready for a big change, and you exceeded our wildest dreams. In conclusion, the new board — Bonnie Stegman and Aaron Hilmer — have made a huge improvement and have brought back to the taxpayer some feeling that the hand on tax dollar was one that could be trusted. I encourage you to continue to reduce the areas of abuse that you have found and to further expose the lies that so easily roll off the lips of so many in public office today … I can’t say enough how much I thank you for your work, and every citizen in this district I am sure feels the same way. People I’ve spoken to around the district have more than once told me what heroes they think of you, and I thank you,” he said.

Hilmer told the Call Monday that he believes the state’s new minimum-wage law will not impact the district financially, and therefore will have “zero impact” on Proposition TD. Some confusion exists regarding the new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, over whether firefighters will be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours in a week, he acknowledged.

The district’s legal counsel, Mathew Hoff-man, is working with a coalition of attorneys from municipalities and other fire districts, the board chairman said, adding that some municipalities have indicated their desire to file a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order.

“If the courts don’t halt this by Tuesday the 9th, we’re going to set up a special meeting to consider a resolution to adjust employees’ pay accordingly,” Hilmer said. “This would not result in any kind of pay increase nor decrease.”