April election critical to Crestwood’s future, Greer tells board

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Crestwood City Administrator Don Greer told members of the Board of Aldermen Saturday morning that voter approval of additional revenue in the April 5 election is essential to maintain the level of services that residents currently enjoy.

The alternative, he warned during a nearly three-hour budget work session, involves “gutting the city.”

“If this thing goes down in flames, it’s really just making sure you’re wearing plastic and get out of the way because there’s going to be a lot of blood flying …,” Greer said, later adding, “… Everything boils down to what happens in April … I don’t know what else to tell you other than the reality is we’ll have to be gutting the city …”

Greer and aldermen discussed the possibility of placing a $5 million bond issue on the April 5 ballot that would resolve the city’s well-publicized financial woes. A $5 million general obligation issue would require a property tax-rate increase of 26 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for a 10-year period.

A four-sevenths supermajority would be required to approve the bond issue that would increase the city’s current property tax rate of 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 51 cents per $100.

A work session to discuss such a bond issue will be conducted by the Board of Aldermen at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 29, at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive.

During Saturday morning’s work session, aldermen discussed the proposed fiscal 2005 budget. No formal action was taken, but by consensus aldermen agreed to shift $594,447 in revenues generated by the parks and storm-water fund back to that fund from the general fund.

The board previously had adopted an ordinance to transfer all parks and recreation expenses to the parks and stormwater fund to provide the general fund with an opportunity to build some equity and stop deficit spending in support of operating expenses.

However, Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox expressed concern about the long-term impact of shifting all parks and recreation expenses to the parks and stormwater fund, while shifting nearly $600,000 in revenue to the general fund from the parks and stormwater fund.

A public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2005 budget will be conducted by the Board of Aldermen at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14, at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive. If the board agrees to shift the nearly $600,000 in revenue back to the parks and stormwater fund, the projected balance in the general fund on Dec. 31, 2005, will increase to $1,329,208 from the original estimate of $734,761.

Under that scenario, fiscal 2005 general fund revenues would be projected at $8,644,300, while total expenditures are estimated at $8,756,139 — a deficit of $111,839.

The proposed budget also projects transferring $250,000 from the general fund to a non-expendable trust fund to help bolster the city’s reserves. The non-expendable trust fund ultimately will serve as the city’s cash-flow account. Internal service fund transfers from the capital improvements fund and the park and stormwater fund totaling $295,847 and a $90,132 long-term internal service fund repayment to the general fund from the capital improvement fund would result in projected net general fund expenditures of $8,620,160 — a surplus of $24,140.

Under the same scenario, park and stormwater fund revenues for fiscal 2005 are projected at $2,522,966, while total expenditures are projected at $2,827,790 — a deficit of $304,824. Based on a projected beginning fund balance of $1,131,443, an ending fund balance of $826,619 is estimated on Dec. 31, 2005.

For fiscal 2005, capital improvement fund revenues are projected at $1,741,798, while total expenditures are estimated at $1,792,487 — a deficit of $50,689. Based on a projected beginning fund balance of $241,049, an ending fund balance of $190,370 is estimated on Dec. 31, 2005.

During the Saturday morning work session, aldermen also discussed a proposal by Ward 2 Alderman Tim True-blood that the planned reconstruction of Ewers Drive, Ewers Court and Lawndale Drive be postponed, using the $401,080 estimated cost of the project to accelerate the capital improvement fund’s repayment of $901,000 to the general fund. Aldermen voted in April to adopt an ordinance calling for the repayment of $901,000 to the general fund from the capital improvements fund over a 10-year period. The ordinance was adopted to repay general fund overhead costs associated with the city’s street reconstruction program that were not captured at the time, causing a significant decline in general fund cash reserves.

Though aldermen debated Trueblood’s proposal at great length, no clear consensus emerged. At one point Ward 3 Aldermen Jerry Miguel criticized Greer’s assertion that the capital improvement fund was on solid financial ground, noting that repairs to Whitecliff Park Lane were not planned for next year.

Miguel said, “You know, this year it’s Ewers. Next year it’s going to be another street. We’ve already put off Whitecliff. And if you look at your five-year plan, your five-year capital improvement (plan), the numbers in this budget for five years are a half a million dollars over your revenue, assuming your revenue holds steady. And so to say that this fund is on solid ground, I don’t see it, just on the numbers that are in this budget. You take out Ewers. You’ve already taken out Whitecliff. When are they going to go back into the five-year plan? I think this fund has problems even though it was said earlier that it’s on solid ground.”

After further discussion, Mayor Tom Fagan asked Miguel, “So does that mean you’re in favor of pulling it (Ewers) out then …?”

Miguel replied, “No. No, I’m not in favor of pulling it out. I’m just saying that this — contrary to popular opinion, the capital improvement fund is not on solid financial ground … ”

Greer said, “… That’s fine. All we’re doing is arguing back and forth. That’s your opinion. I’ve told you that I have presented you with a long-term plan, a capital-improvement plan, that works. You can disagree all you want. That’s up to you what you approve. The plan works. It’s on solid ground. You can argue all you want — argue all you want.”

After further discussion, Greer said, “Do we understand that if we don’t do something in April, there won’t even be a next year? You know, do we understand … I’m sorry. Some of this I find enormously frustrating to talk about (200)6 and (200)7 and (200)8 and stuff like that. We’ve got to get past ’05 and that means that we’ve either got to do something in April to ask voters to give us money, revenue, or you’ve got to say: Don, gut this place. And give me a target and I’ll gut it. I mean, what you’ve said is you don’t want to cut services. You don’t want to contract with St. Louis County Police. You don’t want to go to a fire district. There are options. There are things we can do. You can gut the place. You may not like necessarily the look afterward, but we’ll keep the biggest bang for the buck, but people that’s what we’ve got to be talking about …”

Trueblood then recalled that Greer previously had discussed the possibility of a $5 million bond issue funded by a 26-cent property tax-rate increase over 10 years.

He said, “… The question becomes, $5 million is in our hands, how will we appropriate the spending of that? How does it satisfy our issues now and long term? Can you walk me through what we would do with that $5 million …?”

Greer said, “… There are two things that have to be done. First, you have to pay off the line of credit … let’s assume $2 million, and the balance is used or the majority of the balance will be used to fully fund the non-expendable trust, which is our cash-flow account.”

Greer said, “… If this thing goes down in flames, that’s going to be the least of your worries … If this thing goes down in flames, it’s really just making sure you’re wearing plastic and get out of the way because there’s going to be a lot of blood flying … I’m sorry, I’ll give you one speech. I was done, but I’ll give you one speech … It’s not realistic to think that the citizens are going to stand for getting rid of the Fire Department or the Police Department. The reality is we’re going to gut it and, quite candidly, those of you who may or may not be discussing the concept of contracting with St. Louis County Police, I wish you would shut your mouths.

“Unless this board directs me to do that or to do that, you are destroying the morale of these employees and it really pisses me off. So either do it or don’t. But don’t dance around, please. Have enough respect for the people who bust their ass for you every day … That’s my speech. I’m done,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding said, “… We’re going to have big song and dance on the 14th about Ewers, but really bottom line is: It’s bigger than Ewers …”

Greer agreed with Breeding, saying, “… As I understand it, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but Ewers is not an issue of anything other than accelerating the payment to help reduce the debt. It’s one piece in a step to improve the fund balance of the general fund. It’s not a catch-all or a be-all and everything that we talk about has to be discussed, talked about and evaluated as to its impact. And, yes, everything boils down to what happens in April … I don’t know what else to tell you other than the reality is we’ll have to be gutting the city. And we’ll have to do it then. It will be a nasty summer because we’ll have to do it so we can make the impact as we move into the worst time of the year for cash flow and into the ’06 budget. As we prepare the ’06 budget, we’ve got to know what we’re going to look like for future years. That means all of those things have to be done. You’re going to have a very, very, very busy summer — spring and summer.”

Breeding later said, “… I’m fired up. I grew up here. I’m going to hopefully live here forever. If you talk about, you know, if nothing good happens in April, then we have to talk about the 800-pound gorilla. Why would you have a brand-new City Hall if no one’s here to staff it?”

Greer interjected, “Well, because that’s not an option. You’re not going to get rid of your Police Department. You’re not going to get rid of your Fire Department … The public’s not going to stand for that. That’s my opinion.”

He said he has received numerous calls from residents who are “prepared and ready to challenge any ordinance that contracts with St. Louis County for police.”

Unless the city receives additional revenue, Greer said, “… The reality is to identify a number and take out the hatchet and cut it. And whether that means going, you know, taking a — and I’m just making it up because I haven’t approached it from that standpoint, but if that means getting rid of half the detectives, if that means getting rid of a person off of each crew, if that means going down to one truck in the Fire Department, if that means — you know, I don’t know what all that means.

“That means cutting until you get to the number you need to get to and finding out what services you got left. And you still have local control of the services …,” Greer said.