Here’s the full story about the City of Hazelwood
vs. Robertson Fire Protection District Issue
Dispute between Hazelwood and Robertson Moving From the Courtroom and Toward the Ballot Box
Click the link below to view a story written by reporter Nassim Benchaabane that appeared in the Dec. 17, 2018, issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, front page.
Hazelwood City Council Demands Why Costs for Robertson Firefighters Higher Than City Firefighers
During the Oct. 17 meeting, Hazelwood City Council members demanded to know why Robertson’s costs per employee are dramatically higher when compared to the Hazelwood Fire Department (HFD). In a cost comparison between Robertson and the City, their cost per employee is $46,000 higher than Hazelwood’s. Their departmental costs are $62,000 higher per employee as well. From 2016 to 2017, costs went up $9,000 per employee. Employee costs include items such as wages, overtime, health insurance and pension. Departmental costs include all operating costs except for bond payments and capital expenses. The cost comparisons are based on certified Robertson and Hazelwood annual audits.
Robertson vs. Hazelwood Firefighter Cost Comparisons
Robertson vs. Hazelwood Equipment Cost Comparisons
“On a yearly basis, we have been paying Robertson Fire Protection District nearly $4 million dollars to provide fire service for our residents in their jurisdiction. Since we’re paying them this much money, we deserve some accountability and transparency from Robertson on how this money is spent,” Hazelwood Mayor Matthew Robinson said. “Robertson’s excessive spending has made their services no longer affordable. They’ve priced themselves out of the North County market.” The City Council questioned whether the fees paid to Robertson are excessive, particularly since the Council members know using the Hazelwood Fire Department to provide fire services for local residents living in RFPD’s jurisdiction would save taxpayers about $1.8 million dollars.
Ms. Clara Faatz, a retiree who has lived in Hazelwood for the past 50 years, is leading an effort to organize a Citizens Committee to go out and collect signatures from residents for a petition to put the IGA referendum on the April 2, 2019, ballot. The Hazelwood City Council supports her efforts and is ready for the City to provide the same high quality fire service and EMS response times for all residents in Hazelwood. The City has pledged to maintain a third Fire Station in the Robertson service area staffed with 18 firefighter/paramedics and fire apparatus equipment and an ambulance purchased from Robertson. Because of HFD’s ability to provide the same high quality service and fast response times at a lower cost, the City will be able to save popular programs and continue to offer equal services across the board to the whole City.
The City is prepared to meet with the Robertson Board of Directors at any mutually convenient time and location to discuss how to best provide fire and ambulance services to the joint residents in this area of Hazelwood.
Court Rules in City of Hazelwood’s Favor in Robertson Lawsuit
Judge Stanley Wallach issued a ruling on Oct. 16 in the dispute between the City of Hazelwood and the Robertson Fire Protection District (RFPD). The Judge dismissed Robertson’s lawsuit seeking sanctions and ruled that the City’s actions in terminating the contract are a matter for the court to decide. Judge Wallach stated in his ruling that “it was only after the District saw the City’s counterclaims that it sought contempt sanctions, alleging the City’s disregard for the Annexation Judgment rises to the level of threatening the administration of justice. The Court finds that the pleadings in the Contract Action frame a dispute that must be resolved on its merits, and that the City should not be held in contempt for asserting its defenses and counterclaims. It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed that the Motions for Sanctions Arising from Contempt are DENIED.”
The Judge also found that expiration of the contract and the City’s right to terminate or amend the contract is a matter for the court to decide. The City is pleased that Judge Wallach ruled in the City’s favor and that Robertson’s claim that fees for services rendered was denied. The City will continue to defend itself from these unwarranted claims from the Robertson Fire Protection District.
Hazelwood City Council Votes to Terminate
Contract with Robertson Fire Protection District
After a lengthy attempt by the Hazelwood City Council to negotiate in good faith with the Robertson Fire Protection District (RFPD) about a possible fire services merger to relieve the City of an unsustainable financial burden, the Council voted to terminate its contract with the RFPD on Dec. 20, 2017.
Effective Jan. 1, 2019, the City of Hazelwood will be providing fire and EMS services to residents living in the area once served by the RFPD. Hazelwood City Council members believe this should have been the arrangement when the City first annexed the area. But the area was technically within RFPD’s jurisdiction, so the City entered into a contract in 1994 calling for the City to make payments to the District — on behalf of the residents — for their fire and ambulance services.For the past 23 years, Hazelwood has faithfully made payments to the RFPD in accordance with the formula established by the contract. However, the City’s payments have increased from $1,160,946 annually in 1995 to $3,570,062 in 2017, an increase of 206 percent. This is mainly due to the fact that RFPD has increased its property tax rate to $2.54 in just 23 years.
“We have been pleased with the quality service that RFPD has provided for our residents in its jurisdiction. We wish we could have found a way to re-negotiate the contract so it would mutually benefit both parties,” Hazelwood Mayor Matthew Robinson said. “But the City cannot sustain paying nearly four million dollars a year for RFPD to provide fire and EMS services on top of paying for its own fire department.”
Over the past few years, the City of Hazelwood has been forced to dip into its reserves in order to make payments to the RFPD. This has created a financial crisis which looms over the residents who live and work in Hazelwood because vital services and the City’s solvency are being put at risk by the unreasonable and excessive fees which the City is required to pay RFPD every year.
The City has a fiduciary duty to all its citizens and property owners to provide a full range of quality municipal services on a cost-effective basis. It is incumbent on the Mayor and City Council that the provision of these services which include police, fire, EMS, public works and recreation are to be balanced in such a way as to best promote the general welfare and sustainability of the community within available resources.
Terminating the contract with RFPD will enhance the health, safety and welfare of all Hazelwood residents for several reasons. The City will no longer be pay a fee of nearly $4 million dollars per year to the RFPD. The savings can be re-directed to other areas in the City’s General Budget for improvements to street maintenance, park amenities, police protection and a third fire house (valued at$2.6 million) with additional equipment and personnel to service Hazelwood residents once covered by the RFPD.
“Those living in the part of Hazelwood that was once serviced by the RFPD will see no decrease in fire protection and emergency medical services. It will be a seamless transition. There will be no changes in service levels. The Hazelwood Fire Department has the same equipment as RFPD and a policy of always having four firefighters on a truck. Residents will benefit from the expansion of services offered by the Hazelwood Fire Department as it gears itself up to protect all citizens of Hazelwood,” Mayor Robinson added