Crestwood administration puts aldermen in tight spot

By BURKE WASSON

We know that Crestwood’s administration is lacking. But the question is what — public disclosure or competence? Because of this administration’s actions, aldermen now face a tough decision that could impact residents for years.

Crestwood residents will recall that in April 2006, voters approved Proposition S to raise the tax rate by 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Funds from Prop S, ending in 2013, were to be used only to pay off the city’s $3.5 million in debt and credit with Southwest Bank at the time.

But in October 2006, aldermen refinanced that debt into a $2.87 million note with Royal Banks of Missouri using annual earnings of more than $520,000 of residents’ property taxes through Prop S to pay it off.

In recent months, however, the note once deemed by the administration as the answer to the city’s financial woes is now an albatross in the form of an IRS requirement unmentioned when the administration enthusiastically endorsed the note in 2006. To enjoy a tax-exempt note, a city’s operating balance must equal no more than 5 percent of its previous year’s expenses.

Imagine aldermen’s surprise when learning too much money can be a bad thing. City Administrator Frank Myers originally reported that the city’s 2007 general-fund balance was $773,270 above the 5-percent limit.

In December, aldermen cut that excess to just shy of $400,000 through transfers, but still face some difficult options. Should they protect this extra cash in the face of an uncertain economic future, especially in light of the declining Crestwood mall? Doing so would require the city to pay for that privilege by converting some or all of that money into a taxable note.

Or should aldermen use that excess to prepay the note and essentially cut residents’ property taxes?

Using a roughly $400,000 excess would erase almost a year of citizens’ Prop S payments.

As Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder recently said, “When we refinanced this debt, we promised the public we’d pay this thing off as fast as we can.”

The only sure thing in this mess is that the administration failed to alert aldermen to this possibility until almost a year after the note was in place.

Either they didn’t know or they kept aldermen and the public in the dark.

Frankly, we don’t know which is worse.

Here’s hoping that Crestwood’s administration in the future will not only remember to read the fine print, but also share it.