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.
Effective January 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 from $.91 to $2.54 in just 23 years.
“We have been pleased with the quality of 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 number of 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 people who live and work in Hazelwood because vital City 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 paying a
fee of $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 firehouse (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 RFPD will see no decrease in fire protection and emergency medical services. It will be a seamless transition. There will be no change in service levels. The Hazelwood Fire Department has the same equipment as RFPD and a policy of having four firefighters on a truck. Residents will benefit from the expansion of services offered by the department as it gears itself up to protect all the citizens of Hazelwood,” Mayor Robinson added.