City officials suffer from severe buyer’s remorse

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

Crestwood officials must be suffering from a severe case of buyer’s remorse, given the lawsuit they filed last week challenging the constitutionality of two state laws requiring the city to make annual payments to the Affton Fire Protection District.

The laws require Crestwood to make annual payments to the fire district for providing fire service to an area the city annexed in 1997. Since 1997, the city has paid Affton over $5 million.

Voters approved the annexation of the roughly 290-acre area directly east of Crestwood Aug. 5, 1997. A nearly identical annexation proposal had been rejected by 16 votes in 1994, primarily over the issue of whether the fire district would continue to serve the area.

In May 1995, legislation approved by the General Assembly re-established the county Boundary Commission and resolved the issue of fire protection in annexed areas, as any city annexing an area would be required to pay a fire protection district “an amount equal to that which the fire protection district would have levied on all taxable property within the annexed area.”

As such, Crestwood officials were well aware that state law would require the annexed area to continue to be served by the Affton Fire Protection District, that residents in the area would no longer pay taxes to the fire district and that the city would have to pay those taxes to Affton.

Ironically, then-City Administrator Kent Leichliter told the Call in July 1997, “We were instrumental in getting that done,” meaning changing the state law to protect fire protection districts such as Affton.

City officials allege taxation without representation in the suit, as they have no say in fire district governance or financial issues. How does that differ from the $25 million in tax incentives they awarded a developer for the former mall site? Lindbergh officials estimate the school district stands to lose $9 million over a 15-year period as a result of the incentives. Where was Lindbergh’s representation in that vote?

As usual, city officials do not fail to disappoint with a lack of transparency about the decision to file the suit, as they have declined to release any votes or minutes from closed sessions in which decisions may have been made. We believe city residents have a right to know who put them on the hook for potentially protracted litigation that ultimately could cost the city tens of thousands of dollars — if not hundreds of thousand of dollars.

Why further fan the flames when it comes to the city’s continuing lack of transparency?