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West County EMS and Fire Protection District places tax increase on April ballot

By: Jim Erickson


West County EMS

The West County EMS fire station located in Town and Country.

Voters in the West County EMS and Fire Protection District will have a substantial tax increase proposal presented to them.

At its Jan. 21 meeting, the West County Board of Directors approved a tax proposal that calls for a general fund tax levy boost of 30 cents per $100 assessed valuation on real estate and personal property.

The district serves a resident population of some 51,000 in Manchester, Town & Country, parts of Winchester, Valley Park, Ballwin, Des Peres and Twin Oaks and unincorporated areas of St. Louis County.

West County’s general fund tax rate is the largest of the five levies included in its overall tax bill, which now stands at just over 96 cents per $100 assessed valuation on residential real estate and $1 per $100 assessed valuation on personal property.

The 30 cents to be voted on represents a 31 percent increase in the total residential tax levy, although the increase in the general fund rate, now 42.8 cents, would be 70 percent.

The district has separate tax levies for its ambulance, pension, dispatch and debt service funds, but those are not affected by the proposed general fund increase.

In a brief discussion of the reasoning behind the tax increase proposal, Cobb and Levine noted before the board vote that real estate values in the district basically have remained flat in recent years. As a result, income generated by the current tax levy has not kept pace with rising expenditures and the district has dipped into reserves to make up the difference.

Current budget projections indicate that nearly $300,000 in reserve funds will be needed to pay all the bills this year. However, based on the current real estate and personal property assessments in the district, the proposed increase will generate considerably more than that amount.

In comments after the meeting, Cobb said plans also call for an increase in community outreach efforts. He noted that safety-related education programs such as fall prevention and fire prevention as examples of those efforts and added that many people are unaware of services already available, such as smoke detector inspection.

“Some people think they’ll be charged if they call 911,” he stated.

Modest increases in staff as part of the outreach and increased training efforts, as well as a pay increase for firefighters, whose pay scale hasn’t been changed in several years, also are anticipated if voters approve the higher levy.

District officials said a recent strategic planning project showed residents wanted more community outreach, along with the best possible training and competitive wages for West County personnel.

Much of the outreach effort will center on the district’s safety house built behind the West County fire station on Manchester Road and paid for with a portion of the bond issue funds approved by voters in 2008, Cobb said.

According to Dave Frazier, West County’s deputy chief, there has not been a voter-approved increase in the general fund tax levy since 1987.

If voters OK the 30-cent increase, West County’s overall tax levy will be well above neighboring Metro West and Monarch fire protection districts. Metro West’s total tax levy is $1.057 per $100 assessed evaluation on residential property; 50.8 cents of that goes for the general fund alone. Monarch’s total is 82.9 cents per $100 assessed evaluation, with 42.9 cents of that for the general fund.

West County’s overall tax levy on residential real estate would move to $1.262 per $100 assessed valuation, with the general fund rate accounting for 72.8 cents of the total.

For a West County residence appraised at $150,000 and assessed at 19 percent of that amount, or $28,500, property taxes would increase $85.50 per year.

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