HAZELWOOD, Mo. – A heated confrontation at the Hazelwood City Council meeting Wednesday night (Oct. 17) over fire services in the city. The meeting was interrupted when Mayor Matthew Robinson and Robertson Fire Protection District (RFPD) Chief Don Miner yelled at each other across the room with each accusing the other of not negotiating a new agreement between the city and the district.
The City of Hazelwood and the RFPD have been working together since 1995 when the City annexed a portion of RFPD’s territory, but the two agreed at the time that the City of Hazelwood would pay RFPD to continue servicing that area.
“From the beginning in 1995, the voters said, ‘We want Robertson Fire District,'” said Chuck Billings, attorney for RFPD. “That has never changed, and they have a court order and a contract that codifies that agreement.”
However, Matt Zimmerman, Hazelwood City Manager said since the initial agreement was made, voters have approved property tax hikes for the Hazelwood homes in the RFPD territory, increasing from 91 cents to as much as $2.54 which the City of Hazelwood has had to pay.
“As a result, the city has had to increase its property tax rate from 31 cents to 99 cents,” said Zimmerman. “The City of Hazelwood has also implemented four additional sales tax increases to pay for services,” Zimmerman added.
The City of Hazelwood canceled its contract with RFPD in December 2017. It has proposed the Hazelwood Fire Department take over for RFPD, saying it can save $1.8 million annually.
“We would negotiate with them about taking over their facilities in the Robertson area, taking over their equipment, we can hire their firefighters,” Zimmerman said.
RFPD provided fire protection services to the Hazelwood residents in its territory in 2017 and continues to do so in 2018. Billings argues the City of Hazelwood has not paid RFPD for services in 2017 or 2018, and RFPD is set to run out of money by November 15.
“Termination was the best way to let the public know that we are at the end of our rope with the Robertson Fire Protection District,” said Robinson.
The City of Hazelwood claimed it did not have to pay RFPD because the 1995 agreement had expired, but this week a St. Louis County judge ruled the 1995 agreement is still valid.
“If we don’t reach a resolution to this, in three years we will literally be bankrupt,” said Zimmerman.
The City of Hazelwood is planning to collect signatures in hopes of getting this issue on the ballot in April.