South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Skelton drops appeal of ruling on MFPD tax-decrease issues

Concord resident Dennis Skelton has dismissed his appeal of a February ruling in which a judge rejected his legal challenge to two tax-rate-decrease measures placed on the April 7 ballot by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The two tax-rate decrease measures, Proposition 1 and Proposition 2, were overwhelmingly approved by MFPD voters April 7.

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 both propositions will save taxpayers nearly $10.5 million per year, according to Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer, who said MFPD residents were the first in the state to vote on tax-rate-decrease measures.

Skelton filed his original lawsuit Jan. 28 — less than a week after the Board of Directors voted unanimously Jan. 23 to place Prop 1 and Prop 2 on the April 7 ballot. He was represented by John Goffstein, an attorney who also has represented Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Skelton was an unsuccessful write-in candidate for the fire district’s board in April 2007. He also was founder of the now-defunct Protecting Our Protectors, or POP, “a concerned group of citizens who support the firefighters and paramedics of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.”

A lawsuit filed Feb. 7, 2007, by Skelton led to the removal of the district’s Proposition TD, or Tax Decrease, from the April 3, 2007, ballot. Prop TD sought to decrease the district’s general tax levy by 45 cents per $100 of assessed value.

In February, St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Sandra Hemphill twice denied Skelton’s legal efforts to remove Prop 1 and Prop 2 from the April ballot.

Hemphill first ruled Feb. 6 that because of the new state statute approved in 2008 by the Missouri Legislature, a fire protection district has the legal authority to place tax-rate-decrease proposals on a ballot.

“… The court finds the language of section 137.073.5(3), RSMo., is clear and un-ambiguous,” she wrote. “The statute expressly states that a political subdivision, such as a fire-protection district, may place a tax-rate ceiling reduction on the ballot …”

After Hemphill issued her Feb. 6 ruling, Goffstein filed motions seeking a new trial and an injunction to remove Prop 1 and Prop 2 from the April ballot. Those motions also were rejected by Hemphill.

In her judgment, Hemphill also noted Skelton had sought to present testimony by Sherwood Smith, president of the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters, about failed legislative efforts to amend Chapter 321 to allow fire protection districts to place tax-rate-decrease measures on the ballot.

“Finally, with respect to relator’s request to present testimony by the president of the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters on the legislative history of the enactment of 137.073.5(3), the court finds that this witness’ opinion regarding why the Missouri Legislature may have rejected legislation sponsored by respondents is irrelevant to the authority clearly and specifically granted to the district under section 137.073.5(3), RSMo. The statute speaks for itself,” the judge wrote in her ruling.

Asked about the dismissal of the appeal, Goffstein told the Call last week, “… The dismissal was not filed in regard to anything that had anything to do with the merits or lack thereof of the lawsuit. I think it would have been reversed on appeal. I think it’s very clear it would have been reversed on appeal … I think they just kind of — the feeling I got was that the consensus down there was: Look, nobody wants to quarrel with what the voters did or how they voted, whether or not they had the authority to do it. You know, elections get set aside all the time. It may not have real precedential value, except some place in Mehlville …

“I personally wish they hadn’t, but I’m respecting the wishes of the fact that they are trying to make their legal peace … To the extent it helps everybody get along better, all litigation must come to an end. So I just wish both sides only the best,” he added.

Regarding the dismissal of the appeal, Hilmer told the Call last week, “We are pleased for residents that the legal challenge to the historic tax decrease they approved is over, but sadly, we had to waste district resources to pile up one more rotting carcass of another frivolous lawsuit courtesy of Local 1889’s attorney and the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters.”

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