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Five MFPD employees, including chief, retire after election of reform candidates



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Ray Haddock stands in front of the Mehlville Fire Protection District's headquarters last Friday, his last day of active duty as the district's chief.
April 20, 2005 - Five retirements after the April 5 election will cost the Mehlville Fire Protection District millions in pension payoffs, possibly enough to require employees to begin paying into the tax-driven pension fund.

Chief Ray Haddock and four high-ranking officials of the Mehlville Fire Protection District retired one week after two reform candidates won seats on the district's three-member Board of Directors.

Haddock, Assistant Chief John Schicke, Capt. Robert Hargrave, Capt. Jerry Gibbar and Lt. William Reeves announced their retirement April 11 at the final meeting before newly elected Aaron Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman take office.

The five employees each had worked at Mehlville for roughly 30 years and the retirements will cost the district about $2.69 million in lump-sum pension payoffs, plus nearly $197,057 to an employee who resigned last year after being accused of stealing morphine from district ambulances and another $48,480 annual pension payment, according to information Haddock gave the Call.

"We need to look at how (retirement) affects the pension system and we're going to have to find other ways to fund it, maybe even have the employees kick in to help fund it," Stegman told the Call.

Stegman and Hilmer won election April 5 with the promise of rolling back the re-cently approved 33-cent tax increase and cutting fiscal waste.

At public forums, both candidates cited lucrative benefit packages including 100 percent dependent coverage for medical, dental, and vision insurance, numerous va-cation and sick-leave days with full pay and $950 annual clothing allowances given to office employees.

Hilmer defeated board Chairman Tom O'Driscoll, who was seeking a third six-year term, and Stegman defeated Secre-tary David Gralike, who was appointed in August 2003 to fill a vacancy created by the death of board member and former Chief Joe Gaterman. The seat normally carries a six-year term.

The pension fund currently is fully tax supported. Employees do not contribute to the fund and the Board of Directors in the past has funneled money from the general fund and ambulance fund into the pension fund.

"We're not going to put one dime from the general fund into the pension fund," Hilmer said.

As of March 31, the district had roughly $38.04 million in the pension fund, about $5.3 million less than needed to cover the pensions of all district employees, Comp-troller Jeff Geisler told the Call.

"We're about 88 percent funded, meaning we have about 88 cents of every dollar owed," he said. "So if everybody retired tomorrow, we'd have to come up with another 12 cents for every dollar paid in pensions."

Those figures don't include the recent re-tirements.

Of last week's retirements, only Reeves declined the lump-sum pay out. He should receive $4,040 a month, or about $48,480 per year, for the rest of his live and his wife's life if he precedes her in death.

The other retirees took lump-sum pension payoffs: Haddock, $742,201; Schicke, $769,677; Hargrave, $615,127; and Gib-bar $567,809.

At its last meeting, O'Driscoll, Gralike and Treasurer Dan Ottoline Sr. voted in closed session to approve $197,057 lump-sum payment to Greg Harwood, former deputy chief for emergency medical services and a district employee since 1985.

Harwood was charged last July with replacing morphine from Mehlville ambulances with saline solution. Documenta-tion from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Ad-ministration also accused Harwood of ordering more morphine than he reported to the fire district.

After resigning, Harwood applied for pension and disability but board members denied that request. The $197,057 represents accrued benefits owed to him from 18 years of service at Mehlville, Haddock said, though the pension fund covers the cost.

Meanwhile, the incoming board members welcome the opportunity to hire new administration and say the retirements weren't surprising.

"I was expecting some of it because every-one was worried about what we were going to do," Stegman said.

"It gives us the chance to get our own people in there," Hilmer said. "We can promote our agenda. We are going to put a chief in there who implements the changes we want to make. He will answer to us and us alone.

"I wish them well in their new endeavors, but I am excited about bringing in a new chief," he added.

Members of Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters worked feverishly against Hilmer and Stegman before April 5, but Haddock and Schicke both say the election results did not persuade them to retire.

"Talk to the other people, but I can say that was not my reason," said Haddock, citing personal reasons for retirement. "I had the opportunity to retire. I put a lot of hours in over the years. This is a family thought process."

Haddock clocked in for the last time Friday, but he'll be paid through Sept. 30 because of accrued vacation and sick leave.

"I'll be around," he said. "There's a lot going on right now in Mehlville, so I'll be working closely with John Schicke, who the board named as interim chief."

Schicke will serve as interim chief, but he retires June 3.

"The way our pension is formed, the longer you stay, the less you get," Schicke told the Call when asked his reason for re-tiring. "I was going to retire this year. I don't know what I am going to do. I don't want to sit and stare out the window all day that's for sure ... I'll have all summer to fish and do what I want."

Schicke, 59, worked at Mehlville for 37 years. Hargrave, 58, worked there 34 years and Gibbar, 61, served the district for 33 years.

Haddock, 55, began working in the Mehl-ville Fire Protection District in 1977 as a private and climbed his way to engineer, captain and then chief in 1998.

"I've been devoted to the fire department every minute I've worked here," Haddock said. "The Mehlville Fire Protection Dis-trict has been a great place to work and it's going to continue to be a great place to work. Working at Mehlville is a great honor.

"My main issue was every day a firefighter and paramedic came to work they went home to their wife and kids," Had-dock said, reflecting on his legacy as chief. "Nobody died on my watch. That would have been devastating to me ...

"I'm very happy. I have absolutely no re-grets and I won't be saying anything negative about anything or anybody ever,'' he said.

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