Public hearing tonight on proposed fiscal ’10 tax rate for fire district

By MIKE ANTHONY

A public hearing will be conducted today — Aug. 27 — by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors on a proposed fiscal 2010 tax rate of 59.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. at the district’s heaquarters, 11020 Mueller Road, Green Park.

The proposed blended tax rate of 59.3 cents per $100 is 3 cents more than the current tax rate of 56.3 cents per $100, but 1.6 cents less than the fiscal 2008 tax rate of 60.9 cents. The proposed fiscal 2010 tax rate is the maximum that can be levied by the district.

Voters earlier this year 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 valuation while Proposition 2 asked whether the district’s pension-fund tax-rate ceiling should be permanently reduced by 4 cents per $100.

Voter approval of Prop 1 and Prop 2 will result in the district not being able to collect nearly $10.5 million in tax revenue annually, according to Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer, who has said MFPD residents were the first in the state to vote on tax-rate-decrease measures.

As proposed, the fiscal 2010 tax rates for the general, ambulance, alarm and pension funds are: 42.7 cents, 10.8 cents, 2.6 cents and 3.2 cents, respectively. The current tax rates for the general, ambulance, alarm and pension funds are: 40.6 cents, 10.2 cents, 2.5 cents and 3 cents, respectively.

The proposed blended tax rate of 59.3 cents is a combination of four tax rates — residential property, commercial property, agricultural property and personal property.

Regarding the proposed fiscal 2010 tax rate, Hilmer said, “… We are taking our legal maximum on all four funds — the general, ambulance, alarm and pension fund. Basically, we took what we needed so we would be equal to what we brought in last year.

” … We were the only taxing entity in south county two years ago on the heels of that massive reassessment (that) took none of what we could have taken in that assessment. We did not levy any additional taxes then like the other taxing entities did and we’re maintaining flat. The rate is a little higher than last year, but there’s no increase in the district’s revenue.”

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 Prop 1 and Prop 2 make 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 tax-rate increase.

The proposed fiscal 2010 tax rate exemplifies why Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 were necessary, Hilmer said.

“Well, this is a great example of why Prop 1 and Prop 2 were so necessary, in my opinion,” he said. “While we were able to roll up a few pennies in order to maintain our revenue, imagine if we could have rolled up 50 pennies … So due to the wisdom of voters, Prop 1 and 2 are doing exactly what they were intended to and that’s putting a cap on any type of future tax increases from the district.”

“… Someone asked me the other day: ‘How much more are you going to cut the tax rate, Aaron?’ I said: ‘Well, after four years, we’ve got it to where it needs to be.’ And voters can expect it to stay right about here,” he said, noting the proposed fiscal 2010 tax rate is about half of the district’s 2005 tax-rate ceiling of $1.22.

In a related matter today, the board will consider approval of a preliminary fiscal 2010 budget that projects revenues of roughly $17.8 million with projected expenditures of more than $17.75 million.

The preliminary fiscal 2010 budget anticipates total revenue of $17,877,259 with projected expenditures totaling $17,750,328 — a surplus of $126,931. The preliminary fiscal 2010 budget estimates the district will begin the year with a fund balance of $21,052,959 and end the year with a fund balance of $21,179,890.

The current budget projects total revenue of $17,656,111 with anticipated expenditures of $19,504,179 — a deficit of $1,848,068. The district will not go into the red, but will dip into its reserves. The deficit resulted from construction of the district’s new No. 2 firehouse at 5434 Telegraph Road in Oakville. Work on the new firehouse was completed earlier this year.

Hilmer said he considers the preliminary fiscal 2010 budget just that — preliminary — as the Board of Directors will consider final approval of the budget in December.

At that time, board members will have firm figures with which to work, he said.

“This is the fifth budget that I’ve done and what I’ve learned is not to spend so much time on this (the preliminary budget),” he said. “We don’t have health-insurance renewals. You don’t really have your work-comp renewals. We haven’t decided on any type of pay increases for next year. We haven’t really even decided what we want to spend on capital equipment next year.”

But Hilmer noted, “… In a $17.5 million budget, we’re putting $700,000 into the capital equipment fund, maintaining what we’ve done almost every year — putting nearly a million dollars away for capital improvements, building buildings and buying trucks. All for cash. All without bond is-sues or asking voters for a tax increase, which I think is pretty incredible …

“We are beginning 2010 with $1.4 million in our capital equipment fund … So basically we could build a new firehouse next year for what we have sitting in reserves, and we may just well do that. But those aren’t decisions that have been made yet, and I think it’s a waste of everybody’s time to plug those into a document that is literally four months away from (being approved).”