Lawmakers push back on bill that would give fire districts sales tax authority
By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis – The St. Louis County Municipal League and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing back against legislation that would allow St. Louis County fire and ambulance districts to levy a sales tax.
St. Louis is currently one of just five counties that does not give fire and ambulance districts the authority.
The bill would allow them to charge a half-cent sales tax and reduce property taxes with voter approval. It's gotten first-round approval in the Senate only, but opponents like Democratic state Senator Joan Bray want to slow the process down even further.
They want to know why the districts need additional revenue. And Bray says it will only worsen the salary gap between municipal fire departments and districts, because municipalities have to keep a bigger picture in mind.
"Your municipality has to look at your entire budget of a municipality and how their fire protection and police fit into that whole thing," she said, while fire districts do not have that limitation.
Kurt Becker, the spokesman for International Association of Firefighters Local 2665, which represents most county firefighters, calls Bray's objections more smoke than fire.
Becker, a Clayton firefighter, says many of the fire districts can pay more than municipalities because the districts employ fewer administrators. And, Becker said, many of the districts cover heavily commercial and retail areas."
Oftentimes in these communities many of the calls generated come from folks outside that constituency who visit those areas who are patronizing those businesses and it's the taxpayers that are bearing the burden of that," he said.
Becker said many of the districts in North County are struggling as property values decline.