Crestwood administrative staff increases, but total cost of salaries drop

City’s work force has taken ‘a beating,’ city administrator tells crowd

By BURKE WASSON

An analysis of Crestwood’s costs shows that the city has more administrative employees than in previous years, but pays total administrative salaries at a level less than 2004 and 2005.

City Administrator Frank Myers presented a snapshot of the administration to residents last week during the first of three town-hall meetings this year devoted to city services.

Myers shared that the city’s total administrative cost is $2,305,066. That includes $1,698,316 in administrative pay and $606,750 in capital improvements and payments to the city’s annual-appropriation note with Royal Banks of Missouri.

The city pays a total of $1,698,316 in administrative salary to the equivalent of 15.15 employees, the highest staff level the city has had in recent years.

Compared to previous years, Crestwood paid $1,448,781 to 14.4 employees in 2007; $1,653,486 to 13.75 employees in 2006; $1,790,126 to 14 employees in 2005; $1,802,105 to 11.25 employees in 2004; $1,325,722 to 12 employees in 2003 and $1,088,962 to 10 employees in 2002.

Myers identified future concerns as the development of a competitive pay plan and increasing cost of health care.

He also emphasized that because the city’s 2008 pay levels for its 15.15 administrative employees are strictly from the 2008 budget, the actual pay could be less by the end of the year.

“Those 2007 numbers are estimated actual,” Myers said. “We actually budgeted, if you look at the budget in 2007, we budgeted about $1.6 million in administrative costs. But because we did not fill the economic-development position for most of the year and there were other savings that we achieved, we only spent, from a budget of $1.6 million, $1.448 million. So when you replace that position at a lesser dollar value, you give employees a 2-percent pay increase, you budget for a 12-percent increase in health-care costs, that’s why the (2008) budget reflects $1.698 (million). We do not intend to spend in 2008 $1.698 million in the administration. Our goal is to come in under budget. We have consistently over the last two years come in under budget between 1 and 2 percent of expenditures.”

Myers also addressed questions from the audience concerning the city’s finances and tax rates, including one question asking why the administration “firmly believes that residents would not be willing to pay more taxes to achieve a higher quality of life.”

The city administrator replied that while the Board of Aldermen ultimately is responsible for any decisions regarding taxes, he believes that because the city’s cash position has improved over the past few years, the city could withstand any drop in revenue. Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder mentioned at a recent Board of Aldermen meeting that, according to an administrative report, the city has roughly $4 million in cash on hand.

“Really as the city administrator, it’s not my job to evaluate what citizens are willing or not willing to do in terms of their taxes,” Myers said. “I do believe it’s the elected leadership that makes that decision — the mayor and the Board of Aldermen. I will say that over the last several years as we’ve positioned ourself to recover financially, we have raised taxes. We have raised fees. We’ve increased taxes on businesses as well as taxes on our residents. And I think there’s a philosophical disagreement in part as to how much more taxes we should raise and when we should present those taxes to the people.

“Our cash position has improved. And I think as long as our cash position continues to improve, there’s a reluctance on the part of some of the elected leadership to ask for more taxes until we’re in a point where our cash isn’t continuing to move forward. With that said, we have a trend where our sales taxes have been declining every year. And although we’re getting a lot of new development in our community and we’re waiting to see how that impacts our sales taxes, we are concerned about our sales taxes. So I don’t think the administration, at least the city administrator … firmly believes residents in this community will not increase taxes. Many residents I’ve talked to told me that they would like the opportunity to vote on a tax increase. I think the issue is the political leadership has to ultimately come together and make that decision. And they’re still working through those issues. One of the reasons we’re having this town-hall meeting is to get valuable citizen input on the levels of services that you want to help them begin to make those kinds of decisions.”

Among several questions asked of Myers at last week’s town-hall meeting was why the administration did not push forward on an “alternative budget” that was proposed last year by aldermen to combat any future loss in revenue.

Myers replied that because he does not want to “put fear and panic again in our work force” and also because of the city’s improved cash position, he does not believe it is necessary now to form any alternative plans.

“There were several aldermen that were advocating that in light of the pending sale of the mall and the fact that Dillard’s was closing, we knew our sales-tax revenues were declining and we should develop kind of a worst-case scenario budget,” Myers said. “I think the board and certainly the mayor was not in favor of doing that. The board was split on doing that. And what I had suggested at the time and what I believe is still the best course of action, certainly we need to be monitoring carefully our sales-tax revenue. We know that much of our drop in sales taxes is coming from the decline at the mall.

“But our work force has already taken a beating. We’ve downsized our work force 25 percent. Many of our employees went without pay raises for over two years and have only gotten very modest pay increases the last couple of years. I think the last thing this organization needs, unless it’s absolutely necessary, is to put fear and panic again in our work force by presenting a plan that tells them we may be having further layoffs and further reductions in the force. I do not support that. I do not believe that at this time that’s what we should be doing. Our cash position has significantly improved in this community. And it is my belief that we can take that cash that we have been successfully able to store up over the last couple of years and, should our revenue drop, use that as a cushion as we begin to develop other strategies. So that’s my response to that question.”