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For Affton Fire Tax, Need Seen in the Numbers

The district says its ambulance will be overtaxed by new senior centers.

If you thought you heard more sirens than usual in Affton this year, you weren’t wrong.

officials say Affton’s growing population of seniors put their single ambulance to work an additional 300 EMS calls in 2011. It is this trend—likely to continue as yet more senior living centers open in the area—that prompted the district to put a tax increase on the April ballot for voter approval.

The $0.26 tax levy would bring in an additional $1.27 million in revenue, which Chief Jim Fritz said would be used to add an additional ambulance to Affton Fire's fleet and hire six new staff to man it.

“This isn’t for the firefighters to get a raise,” Captain Ben Waser said. “This is for something that is desperately needed in our community.”

How big is the need? In 2010 the district ran 2,732 emergency medical calls. In 2011 that number jumped to 3,017. The ambulance is also sent out on some fire and non-EMS calls, for a total of 3,152 runs in 2011. According to the district, the ambulance is currently operating at above normal rates; other districts can only comfortably run a similar number of calls with three ambulances.

The district attributes much of the jump in traffic to the new Crestview Senior Living Center. In a presentation about the tax proposal at the Affton School Board meeting on Tuesday, Captain Steve Davila said the district often makes several trips a day to the Grant Road senior facility.

And calls are only going to grow as new senior centers are added to the area, including a sister facility to Crestview, , and The Village at Mackenzie Place, a Lutheran Senior Services facility .

“We are guessing a couple hundred more calls over the next year,” Waser said of the need generated by the new senior centers.

When the district’s ambulance is out on a call and another call comes in, the district turns to its neighboring fire districts for mutual aid assistance. In 2011 799 calls were handled by mutual aid ambulances. The district’s ambulance also ran 370 mutual aid calls. But relying on mutual aid can mean small delays in response times as first responders may have further to travel.

This new levy is the recommendation of the district’s community-based strategic planning committee, which included representatives from the Affton and Bayless school districts, the St. Louis County police and the Affton Chamber of Commerce. The group met for several day-long meetings last fall to discuss the future of the district.

Adding a new ambulance is not a one-time expense. Because of the heavy use they see, ambulances must be replaced about every five years. They must also be stocked with medical supplies that the district pays for. Similarly hiring new EMTs doesn’t just mean paying for their salaries. The district must buy and maintain equipment for the new staff, and may need to make improvements or expansions to its living facilities to accommodate additional bodies. In particular the Number 2 house on Valcour Avenue, where the new ambulance may be housed, has not been renovated since 1962.

The last tax levy passed by the Affton Fire District was in 2002, which paid for badly needed renovations at the district’s main fire house. The district asked for an increase two years ago to help maintain its pension fund, but voters did not approve the measure.

Though firefighters are not allowed to promote the ballot measure while on duty, off duty Affton firefighters have been organizing a campaign to get the word out about the proposed levy. Firefighters will be speaking at meetings around the district and have set up a Facebook page for their cause. The firefighters said they have so far received a positive response to their campaign.

Proposition A will be put to a vote on April 3.

Tony Rivera February 25, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Let's have a count of the number of these "senior living centers" that are non-profit and, therefore, don't pay sales taxes. Why do residents have to subsidize their burdening the system while making money for their associated owners? Entities like these often pay what's called a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for things like fire and police coverage. In Shrewsbury, for example, think of all the property dedicated to non-profit use: two churches, one school, Cardinal Ritter Senior Services (an enormous campus with staggering revenue), Rigali Center's enormous sprawl, Regina Cleri, and so on. If these were all taxes by Shrewsbury and St. Louis County, they would be paying millions upon millions of dollars to cover their needs. Yet they pay a sum total of something like $40,000 per year to the city. That's it -- and every police, ambulance, and fire call that these places generate to our city have to be covered by that. It doesn't take many ambulance runs to overshoot that pittance. So, although I am not in the AFPD, I urge residents there to think very carefully. Why should you subsidize these tax-sheltered entities who are taking advantage of your tax dollars?
Tony Rivera February 25, 2012 at 02:02 AM
And I forgot to mention Kenrick Seminary and its palatial buildings and sprawling grounds....they're putting something like forty million dollars just into refurbishing the place.....yet their share of taxes paid to the city is miniscule.
Tony Rivera February 25, 2012 at 02:34 AM
And yet another mistake I made - I meant to say, let's see who doesn't pay PROPERTY taxes (of course they don't pay sales tax either...non-profits are effectively a burden wherever they move - a burden on police, burden on fire/EMT, burden on streets and infrastructure)
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Brian Schaffer March 20, 2012 at 01:37 AM
I agree with Tony. If Affton needs another ambulance due to all the new retirement communities, then those retirement communities need to start paying fees if they are not paying real estate tax to the fire district. Unless the AFD can show that they are trying to get money from those residents, I will be voting no.
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John Dough April 13, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Charge for use of the Ambulance per incident.

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