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Fire district board approves 1st inspection-fee hike in 10 years

The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors recently voted unanimously to increase inspection fees for the first time in 10 years.

Chairman Tom O'Driscoll, Treasurer Dan Ottoline Sr. and Secretary David Gralike voted in favor of the recommendation from the district Comptroller Jeff Geisler and Fire Marshal Ed Berkel.

The board also followed the recommendation to institute a policy to review the district's inspection fees every three years, with the first review due for the year beginning Jan. 1, 2007.

Permit fees vary depending on the type of structure, but currently a new residence that costs $100,000 has an inspection fee of $125, or $25 plus $1 per $1,000 value of the structure. Residential additions, detached residential garages, fire damage repair and residential remodel have the same fee.

The new inspection fee approved Oct. 27 will be $200 for the same permits, or $50 plus $1.50 per $1,000 of the value. This will recover roughly 95 percent of the inspection office's operating expenditures, Geisler told the board.

Condos, apartments and commercial buildings currently are inspected for a fee of $50 plus $2 per $1,000 of their value, or $250 for a $100,000 structure. The same structures under the new fee schedule will cost $100 plus $3 per $1,000 of their value, or $400.

He began looking at the inspection fees, he said, during the 2004 budgeting process. He became interested then in the revenue generated by the inspection office compared to the operating expenses. In 2003, Geisler said the inspection office costs about $461,000 to operate while it generates a four-year average of $266,000 per year — about $200,000 short of recovering its costs.

When the district amended its 2003 budget in August, revenue decreased because of over budgeting the inspection fees revenue, Geisler had told the Board of Directors during the Aug. 18 meeting. He said he had anticipated the revenue would be much more, but compared to last year at that time, the district was bringing in much less. The line item budget was decreased $50,000, from $265,000 to $215,000.

During the Oct. 27 meeting, Berkel and Geisler explained that the district sent out inspection fee surveys in August to 18 other fire districts to compare those with Mehlville. Of the 13 districts that responded, the average fee for a $100,000 residence was $154.60 and the median was $130. The lowest fee was $95 and the highest was $325.

"We're probably the largest one (district) below the median?" O'Driscoll questioned and received an affirmative answer from Berkel.

Gralike asked if any districts were abnormally low to skew the numbers, but none were lower than Eureka at $95, while Pattonville and Robertson were a little more than Eureka.

Geisler noted that the district's attorney, John Hessel of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, said that the fee increase would not be subject to the Hancock Amendment, which limits the amount of taxes that can be collected without voter approval.

"If we're going to institute this, we would like to have the opportunity to put it in our budget in December for next year," Chief Ray Haddock said.

A second proposal option was to recover roughly 80 percent of the operating expenses in the inspection office vs. the approved proposal that will recover roughly 95 percent of those costs.

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