We're Listening and Learning

A community organization has recently presented information about the Robertson Fire Protection District that has concerned us as much as it has probably concerned many of you. To ensure our policies and procedures continue to follow best practices for area fire districts and that nothing has been missed in our financial reporting, we are undergoing an internal review with our auditors at Botz, Deal and Company.

This in-depth review will allow us to correct any problems and ensure we continue to be financially responsible and good stewards of the tax dollars provided to us.

This group, Citizens to Save Hazelwood & Fire Services, has sent dozens of sunshine requests for thousands of records, some dating back more than a decade. While we appreciate their efforts to hold public agencies accountable, we are concerned about how they are presenting the data they have received and cannot verify the accuracy of their data or calculations.

Cost Per Resident

Let’s start with the cost per resident for fire, rescue and emergency medical services. They present the costs for emergency services based on a calculation that involves the number of residents.

Our fire district budget is not based on the number of residents; it is based on the amount of property in the district. This is how local funding works for all fire districts, cities and school districts in the State of Missouri.

Robertson includes a mix of residential, commercial and agricultural properties. Unlike many communities, our district has mostly commercial properties, not residential. This means residents pay a smaller portion of our operating expenses.

2020 Types Of Property In Each District

2020 Residential  2020 Commercial  2020 Agricultural  2020 State
Robertson 16% 82% 0% 2%
Kinloch 38% 29% 0% 32%
City of Hazelwood   45% 54% 0% 1%
Valley Park 71% 25% 0% 3%
Northeast 72% 28% 0% 0%
Riverview 74% 23% 0% 3%
Florissant Valley  76% 22% 0% 2%

Overall, in Bridgeton and Hazelwood, only 16% of our property is residential, which means residents are only paying for 16% of our operating expenses or an average cost of $131 per resident, not the $821 the group reports.

Fuel and Internet

Other areas this group is reviewing are fuel and internet costs and our practices for selling retired equipment. We have looked at the data they have presented and are working on learning how their calculations were done, but it appears they only show some of the information, with the numbers skewed to tell their story.

For example, fuel and internet each make up less than 0.5% of our overall budget, but they are key focus areas of their research. When we look at fuel costs, our overall cost is in line with other Districts of our land size.

Fuel Costs

Florissant $64,070.69
Pattonville $51,964.78
Northeast Ambulance   $43,330.50
Robertson $35,439.66
Black Jack $30,217.75
City of Hazelwood $12,677.32
Spanish Lake $12,195.27

 

Their calculations only refer to call information. We do more than respond to emergency calls. We conduct code reviews and inspections for commercial properties, provide public fire education and conduct fire prevention activities like installing and repairing smoke detectors, all of which add to fuel costs.

Because of our coverage area, there are also many emergency incidents where we need to send a fire truck, ambulance and in many cases a chief’s vehicle. These include car accidents on highways 270 and 370, life-threatening medical emergencies and commercial incidents.

In addition, we do not have access to our own fuel depot like many cities do to provide gas for command staff vehicles and other equipment. These are only a few possible reasons for the fuel cost discrepancies.

The internet, cable and landline service numbers the group presents are ambiguous, which makes it challenging to determine the cause of the variance between the figures presented for Robertson and other fire districts.

The group does mention the use of Windstream Communications, which is no longer a vendor of Robertson Fire Protection District. In the past, Windstream was used to provide communications services between the District’s two fire stations. Now, more cost-effective options are available, including Charter Spectrum, which the District uses. The District also recently underwent a service audit with Verizon to evaluate cell phone equipment and usage.

Retired Equipment

The group also looked at the sale of surplus or retired equipment. All of our equipment is on a regular equipment replacement cycle, a common practice among fire districts. This ensures vehicles and other equipment are up-to-date and ready for emergency situations, it also reduces maintenance costs.

While reviewing the sale of out-of-date equipment, the group highlighted the sale of an 11-year-old ambulance. In 2008, the District purchased a 2009 International 4300 LP Ambulance for $239,449. The former medical officer for the District took delivery of the vehicle and soon after, it began having mechanical problems. It was discovered that the ambulance was built with an incorrect front axle that could not handle the weight of the vehicle. The manufacturer tried to repair the defect, but it continued to have problems, including that it was difficult to drive at highway speeds.

Nearly a decade later, and after a legal battle with the manufacturer, the District determined it was time to retire and sell the ambulance in 2018. The problems with this vehicle were well documented and known by other Districts and fire departments around the area, making it difficult to sell. Based on previously auctioned vehicles, the ambulance was valued at $5,000 and sold to the highest bidder Maynard Howell for $7,501