Fire Service in Hazelwood
Hazelwood Fire Service 101
Hazelwood is served by 3 fire agencies:
- Hazelwood Fire Dept. (middle area of town - shown in blue)
- Robertson Fire Protection District (west side of town - shown in green)
- Florissant Valley Fire Protection District (north and far east sides of town - shown in purple)
Why 3 Fire Agencies?
When the residents voted to annex into the City in the early 1990s, the law at that time allowed citizens to choose their fire service provider. The City would pay the taxes that residents would normally pay for the fire districts.
What does that mean? The City has a contract with each of the districts to provide service in those areas. The City acts as a conduit, or middle-man, between the fire districts and the residents.
State of Fire Service in Hazelwood Today
Since the annexation, the City’s payments to the fire districts have increased significantly because the voters in the districts have approved tax rate increases. Because the City acts as a conduit between the fire districts and the residents, the residents do not pay - the City pays the rates.
In 1997, the initial payments to the fire districts were $1.5 million and by 2017, the payments had increased to $4.7 million - a rate increase of 10% per year.
Cost of Fire Service in Hazelwood
Hazelwood has been running a budget deficit since 2012. In 2020, fire service payments make up almost 40% of Hazelwood's city budget!
The voters approved a ¼-cent sales tax in 2014 and to increase it to a ½-cent in 2020. These sales taxes are used to help pay the cost of the Hazelwood Fire Dept., but it is not enough to cover the full cost of fire services in the City.
The City projects to run out of money in 2021.
What has Hazelwood done to try to fix the situation?
Since 2014, the City has been addressing this issue by cutting costs, raising revenue, and balancing the budget. Hazelwood took action to cut costs even before COVID-19 hit, in anticipation of some of these budget deficits earlier in the year.
This year, we have saved $1.3 million by:
- Eliminated 10 administrative positions since 2015
- Eliminated another 3 FT and 8 PT positions in the 2021 budget
- Eliminated raises and implemented a hiring freeze
- Closed Civic Center East indefinitely
- Eliminated fall leaf collection and spring limb collection
- Eliminated 4th of July fireworks
- Eliminated mailed newsletter and recreation program guides
- Slower street maintenance and snow plowing response times due to short-staffing
- Eliminated park pavilion rentals
- Eliminated popular park programs, such as Halloween Happenings and Easter Egg hunts
- Eliminated Hazelnuts funding
- Reduced employee travel and training opportunities.
Additionally, the voters have approved 3 sales tax increases and the City's property taxes have gone from 31 cents to 99 cents in the past 23 years. Twice in the past two years, the mayor and city council voted to put the creation of a neighborhood improvement district (NID) on the ballot for voters in the Robertson fire service area. The NID would have bridged the gap between what it would cost Hazelwood to serve the area and what the City has to pay to Robertson based on their voter-approved tax rates. Both times, the NID failed.
- Failed by 75% in 2019
- Failed by 59% in 2020
What are our options?
- Proceed with Litigation:
- The City terminated the Robertson contract in December 2017 with the intent is to protect the services for residents and provide financial security. This action included the City providing services and invited Robertson to help plan the transition.
- Robertson sued the City. Since then, both sides have been working to try and reach a resolution, with no result yet.
- Hazelwood can continue with the litigation if no mediated solution is found.
- Annexation by Fire Districts:
- The fire districts can place on the ballot a petition to annex their respective service areas. This means that residents in the fire district service areas would still be Hazelwood residents and receive Hazelwood city services with the exception of fire protection. Their fire protection would be provided by their respective fire district, as it is now, but those residents would pay taxes to the fire district.
- Both fire districts are currently studying annexation of their service areas, including the possibility of annexing the Hazelwood service area.
- Citizen's Initiative:
- Missouri law provides an initiative petition process through which fire district residents can vote to adopt district laws and policies. Future citizen’s initiatives could include requiring approval of an intergovernmental agreement through which Hazelwood would provide fire service to the area.
- In 2018, a citizens committee submitted a petition to the Robertson Board of Directors to put a City-approved agreement to have Hazelwood provide fire/EMS services directly to the Robertson area within the City. It was not placed on the ballot.
- Significant Budget and Service Reductions:
- The City has a projected budget deficit of almost $4.5 million for the 2020-21 FY. We are working hard to make cuts and save money wherever we can.
- The deficit will grow if payments to Robertson continue beyond December 31, 2020.
- The next round of significant cuts would have to include fire and police as there is no other place to cut.
What about de-annexation?
The statutory time limit to challenge the annexation expired over 20 years ago. If property in the fire district service area could lawfully be de-annexed and removed from the City, those residents would not be “re-annexed” into the fire district, so they would be left without any Fire and EMS services as well as City police protection, street maintenance, snow plowing, and use of park programs and facilities.