Board’s backing of Crestwood police may carry a price tag for taxpayers

Crestwood voters could eye property-tax increase in April election

Gregg Roby

Gregg Roby

By Mike Anthony

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen adopted a resolution last week affirming its support of the city’s Police Department and opposing any outsourcing of police service.

However, the board’s support for the city’s Police Department may carry a price tag, as residents could be asked to approve a tax-rate increase, possibly next April, to bolster the city’s finances.

Aldermen voted 7-0 to adopt the resolution that stated, in part, “… The Board of Aldermen has explored alternative means of providing police service to the city, and has determined that the Crestwood Police Department is perceived by its residents as being the best equipped to protect and serve the city.”

Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach was absent from the April 26 meeting.

The board’s adoption of the resolution came two weeks after St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar oversaw a presentation and question-and-answer period about the possibility of his department providing police service to the city. Residents — and many members of the city’s Police Department — packed the aldermanic chambers on April 12 to hear Belmar’s presentation. In February, Ward 3 Alderman Grant Mabie requested that the presentation on a potential municipal contract be scheduled.

However, the resulting public outcry against contracting with the county Police Department led to the board’s adoption of the resolution.

The resolution was adopted before the winners of the April 5 election were seated — incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding and incumbent Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter, both of whom were unopposed; Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel, who previously served nine years on the board; and Ward 4 Alderman Tony Kennedy, who made his first bid for office.

Residents applauded after the resolution was adopted, and Mayor Gregg Roby said, “… The aldermen, in addition to receiving probably a hundred or better emails from residents supporting (the Police Department), also had a tremendous number of individuals through our survey that we had online that responded in support of the police officers. So we appreciate that input, and it helps us to provide us with the knowledge and the information we need to move forward …”

Breeding also read a statement from Wallach, who noted that he fully supported the resolution. Wallach’s statement also cited the city’s financial situation and suggested a possible tax-rate increase be explored.

“… While we wait for the Crestwood Plaza redevelopment, we likely need to examine a potential property-tax increase to our voters in 2017 …,” according to Wallach’s statement.

Later during the meeting, after the election winners were seated, Breeding said, “… Alderman Wallach referred to this earlier tonight, but at what point do we then talk about a property-tax increase so that the residents are aware? And I’ve heard numerous residents say, ‘Keep the police. Keep the fire. I’ll pay more.’

“And maybe that’s just anecdotal, but I take it they mean they’ll pay more because of the great deal we have here. Every year, I look at the property-tax bill and I pay the same amount to the Zoo, I think, as I do to the city of Crestwood. I pay almost the same amount to, I think, the libraries. We have a deal here, so how or what can we do to see some sort of deadline to do something like that and talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the room?”

Roby replied that he planned to convene a meeting of the city’s Ways and Means Committee, perhaps within the next 30 days, to review the city’s finances.

“I’ve said time and time again, we can’t be a board that continues to sweep our problems under the rug, just to balance a budget,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that the residents understand … One of the discussions we’ve had is do we make the residents pay for sidewalk repairs and that’s a big question. There are a lot of people in Crestwood that don’t have sidewalks, and those that do, are we going to penalize them because they bought a house that has a sidewalk in front of it?

“So I think that these are all things that we have to consider and we have to look at before we can actually decide and determine what kind of number we need in order to be able to take care of our current needs, as well as those items that we continue to — have continued to put off — our streets, as I said before, our sidewalks. We’ve got curbs and gutters. We’ve got roofs.”

Another upcoming expense will be the replacement of the bridge leading to Whitecliff Park, the mayor said.

“So there’s a lot of stuff in the city that needs to be taken care of, and I think that Ways and Means really needs to sit down and take a look at where we are, what items do we have that need to be addressed, and then determine what that dollar number is and present that to the board for their consideration,” Roby said.

In response to a question from Breeding, Mabie noted that of the cities with municipal fire departments in St. Louis County, Crestwood’s tax rate is the second lowest.

Breeding said he wanted to know how soon the board could move forward with a possible tax-rate increase.

“… Can we have that at our next meeting? Is that too much to ask for?” he asked.

City Administrator Kris Simpson said, “If the board wants us to look into it, we can look into it.”

Regarding placing a proposal before voters, Roby said, “I think it’s a little premature prior to next April, to be honest with you, which would be our normal election period — only because August is very quickly approaching. You’d have to have that information to the election commission by May, if I’m not mistaken … Obviously November with the presidential election is going to be a massive traffic jam, and so I think it’s important that we give Ways and Means an opportunity to evaluate it (and) the board the opportunity to evaluate it …”

In addition, Roby said he believes it will be important to review the city’s finances mid-year and to conduct a town-hall meeting so residents will be fully informed.

“We need to be totally up front with how we approach this,” he said.

Breeding said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for. Not even a number. I just want dates so that I can prepare — where do we have to be by when? I don’t need a number. I don’t need an estimate. I just need dates …”