Not only do taxpayers foot the bill for St. Clair Ambulance District board members to have personal cellphones, but their spouses also get the free perk courtesy of the district and its taxpayers.
Ambulance Chief Bill Hollo confirmed to The Missourian that the personal cellphones are given to any board member and his or her spouse who request it, and the district picks up the tab each month. Board members also receive a $100 cash stipend every month for attending meetings.
“We don’t consider this to be an excessive thing,” Hollo told The Missourian during an interview earlier this week. “We’ve elected to do it because we feel it’s economical and practical.
“It’s important that the board knows what’s going on, and that’s how this cellphone thing came about. It really has improved communications.”
The six-member board established the policy several years ago, Hollo said.
According to district phone records and information provided by Hollo, all six board members and three spouses take advantage of the cellphone service. Hollo and his wife also have district-provided phones.
In all, the local ambulance district has 20 cellphone lines, records show. Phones are inside each ambulance and are used by emergency medical technicians to communicate and to send test results to area hospitals.
EMTs do not have their own district-provided cellphones.
Hollo said two additional lines are for air or SIM cards.
Board member and district Treasurer Danny Shadrick also confirmed the cellphone practice to The Missourian. He said the board feels it is a necessary service.
“Board members are on call 24/7,” he said. “Some of them run emergency operations for us and can be in dangerous situations. We wanted there to be a way we could be in communication all the time if needed as well as allow board members to be in contact with their spouses.
“I think this is fair considering what the board does for the district. I think we’re accomplishing our objective to be able to be in touch 24/7.
“And, we have a lot of board members who want to stay in touch with the district as well as their spouses. We’re very family-oriented here.”
Hollo said assistant chief Jamie Clayton has opted not to take advantage of the district-offered cellphone service and uses his own device.
The local ambulance district uses AT&T as its service provider. The monthly cellphone bill totals about $1,000.
A check of ambulance district records provided by Hollo shows that from November 2012 through April 2013, the average cellphone bill was $1,004.32. The highest monthly total during that time frame was $1,065.08 in January.
However, according to the district’s 2013 budget, which is a working document that estimates revenues and expenses, only $6,125 is in the communications line item for the entire year. Hollo said phone expenses come out of that line item and include a separate $400 monthly bill for in-house telephones and a fax line.
Besides Shadrick, the St. Clair Ambulance District board of directors are Chairman Tony Hinson, Secretary Bill Hinson and members Tim Davis, Jennifer Erbs and Brian Hinson.
During the six-month period in which records were obtained, the seven ambulance and two SIM lines averaged about $347 per month of the total $1,000 cell bill. Hollo’s cellphone usage adds about another $140 per month.
Doing the math, that means board members and their spouses eat up slightly more than half of the district monthly cellphone bill, with Tony Hinson’s being the highest at an average of $132 per month, or about as expensive as Hollo’s phone, which the chief often uses in emergency situations.
In fact, in five of the six months of records obtained by The Missourian, Tony Hinson’s personal monthly cell bill was higher than any line used by EMTs on emergency calls.
During four of the six months, the cellphone used by Erbs’ spouse cost more than $100 per month. The low amount was $89.23 while the highest total, $169.26, came in January. During that month, that cell line’s bill was about $36 higher than any other line used by the district.
Hollo said he thought the phone option combined with the $100 monthly payment for attending board meetings was more economical for the district than raising the compensation ante for being on the board. He said the district could pay board members whatever it believes is “fair and reasonable” to attend meetings.
“We could pay them $200, even $300 or $400 a month,” Hollo said. “The only stipulation is that they attend the board meeting that month.
“This is all legal under state statute.”
The board usually conducts one meeting each month. Occasionally, a special meeting is called.
The communications line item in the district’s budget used to be a lot higher than it is today. A check of records showed that in 2009, there was $13,200 placed in that line item. In 2010, the amount was $16,500. The next year, however, the figure was more than cut in half at $6,300. Last year, the total was $5,500.
Doing the math, a $1,000 average monthly cellphone bill, the $400 per month in-house phone bill plus a $40 per month fax line bill the district uses for Franklin County dispatch totals $17,280 annually.
About $6,000 of that total comes from the board’s usage of cellphones.
Overall, the St. Clair Ambulance District’s annual budget is $1.47 million.
A comparison of what other local taxing entity board members in and around St. Clair receive as compensation produced varying results.
Both St. Clair R-XIII and Lonedell R-XIV board of education members receive zero compensation for their work on those boards. They meet monthly and also attend various school-related events throughout the year.
The four-member St. Clair Board of Aldermen receives an annual pay of $1,920 each, or $160 per month. The board conducts two meetings each month, with an occasional special meeting called. The compensation computes to $80 per meeting.
The three St. Clair Fire Protection District board members get $125 per meeting they attend, not to exceed $250 per month, Treasurer Dave Berkel said. That computes to a maximum of $3,000 per year per member. They receive no other perks or stipends, Berkel said.
He also said that between September and December 2011, when the investigation was launched into the financial irregularities within the district that led to the eventual indictment of former chief and treasurer Eric Hinson, board members suspended their compensation.
Berkel also said the maximum amount the district can pay out to board members is a total of $400 per meeting, or an average of $133.33 per member.
All of those entities are funded, at least in part, through local taxes.
As far as other area ambulance districts, Meramec Chief Christine Neal told The Missourian her board members receive no compensation of any kind, and it has been that way for at least 18 years. That includes no financial payment to attend meetings as well as any other kind of perk.
“They have chosen not to be paid,” she said.
In Union, the six ambulance board members receive a $200 per month payment for their services, said Leroy Struberg of Struberg & Associates, the firm that handles the financials for the district.
“We started doing that about four years ago,” he said. “Before that, the board served for nothing.”
Struberg said the board decided on the $200 per month because it was easier than paying out an amount per meeting. He said the ambulance district could have one or several meetings per month.
Struberg said the board members receive no other kind of compensation.
He also said that one of the Union board members immediately signs his check back to the district to put back into its coffers.