Fire Districts Are About as Confusing as It Gets in Local Government
I recall several years ago when the Post-Dispatch ran a great series about abuses in fire districts around St. Louis that led to the mayor of Creve Coeur receiving a number of angry phone calls demanding he address those types of issues at the Creve Coeur Fire District. What almost none of the residents of Creve Couer apparently knew was that the city and the fire district were completely and totally separate political entities, and the mayor had no control over the fire district. Which brings us to today’s excellent Post-Dispatch editorial about the Northeast Fire District. I recommend reading it entirely, and I hope that the residents of that area move to abolish the district — which is a too-seldom-used option in Missouri local government. (Yes, I am thinking of you, townships.)
Here is the chart of fire districts and municipal fire departments in St. Louis County. Indeed, it’s pretty confusing. There are cities with their own fire departments, fire districts for the unincorporated areas, cities within fire districts where the city has no involvement with the fire district, and even one small unincorporated area in which the county pays a municipal fire department (Olivette, I think) to provide fire service because many years ago the area was somehow left out when fire districts were drawn up. Since that area (between Olivette and Overland) has long had a primarily African-American population, I have to guess that racism played a role in that oversight.
I live in a city with a municipal fire department — University City. At times, people have discussed saving money (?) by switching to a fire district. Needless to say, that would be the worst possible decision the city could ever make. We have a terrific fire department, and I hope we keep it just like it is now, run by the city, its mayor, and the city manager, rather than by three members of a fire district for which nobody has any idea who to hold responsible for taxes, performance, etc.