UPDATED: Crestwood files suit against Affton Fire Protection District

Gregg Roby

Gregg Roby

The city of Crestwood filed a lawsuit today — Wednesday, May 24 — challenging the constitutionality of two state laws requiring the city to make annual payments to the Affton Fire Protection District.

The lawsuit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, names the Affton Fire Protection District, Gov. Eric Greitens and Attorney General Josh Hawley as defendants.

The state laws Crestwood is challenging as unconstitutional require the city to indefinitely make annual payments to the Affton Fire Protection District for providing fire service to an area that Crestwood annexed in 1997. The calculation of those payments is based on the Affton Fire Protection District’s property tax rate, which is higher than the tax rate a municipality is permitted to charge for the providing of fire service, according to city officials.

Since 1997, the total amount of payments from Crestwood to Affton exceeds $5 million.

“Crestwood residents are being forced to subsidize the operations of the Affton Fire Protection District. It’s taxation without representation,” Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby stated in a news release issued by the city. “The area Crestwood annexed makes up only a tiny portion of the Affton Fire Protection District. When Affton increases its tax levy, as they did in 2012 and again in 2017, most Crestwood residents don’t get a say, but we are stuck with the ever-increasing bills. We’ve seen our annual payment to Affton double since 2001— from $219,000 to $444,000 in 2016.”

In the April 4 election, Affton Fire Protection District voters approved a 25-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition A for Affton. The 25-cent tax-rate increased Affton’s tax rate to $1.49 per $100 of assessed valuation.

With the passage of the Affton’s Proposition A, Crestwood’s annual payment to Affton could exceed $550,000 going forward.

On Thursday, Affton Fire Protection District Chief Nick Fahs declined to comment about the lawsuit, noting the district had yet to receive a copy of the suit for its legal counsel to review.

Crestwood’s lawsuit contends the two state laws require city taxpayers to perpetually make a substantial annual payment to Affton, while affording them no voice in the fire district’s financial affairs.

The suit alleges the two state laws treat St. Louis County differently from all other counties in Missouri regarding this issue, including Jackson County in Kansas City. These “special laws” carving out St. Louis County are unconstitutional, Crestwood’s suit contends.

A ban on special laws has been a part of the Missouri Constitution since 1865, and the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed its opposition to special laws that treat St. Louis County differently than other Missouri counties in a May 16 ruling in the city of Normandy v. Greitens case challenging provisions of Senate Bill 5 regarding municipal court reforms.

If Crestwood’s challenge is successful, the city’s Fire Department is prepared to provide fire services to the annexed area, city officials said. Crestwood would be able to provide a superior level of fire and EMS service to the annexed area with current staffing and equipment levels for less than $50,000 per year, saving taxpayers in Crestwood over half a million dollars annually, according to an analysis by city officials.

“Crestwood has an excellent Fire Department, and we want to serve our residents. State law doesn’t allow us to — and we’ve decided enough is enough,” Roby stated in the release. “The Affton Fire Protection District is a well-run organization, and we respond to many calls where our Crestwood firefighters are working side-by-side with theirs. We have nothing against the district or its first responders, but this law is unfair, wasteful and unconstitutional.

“At the end of the day, this comes down to equality under the law, and providing the highest level of service at the lowest possible cost. That’s what our residents want, that’s what any proponent of good government would want, and that’s what we want.”