Crestwood aldermen consider structure of town-hall meetings on city services

City administrator proposes three meetings on services

By BURKE WASSON

The first of three town-hall meetings designed to gauge Crestwood residents’ views on city services tentatively is planned later this month.

The Board of Aldermen was set to consider a town-hall meeting structure proposed by City Administrator Frank Myers during a work session Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

In a Dec. 28 administrative memorandum directed to Mayor Roy Robinson and aldermen, Myers proposes that the city’s administration, Fire Department, Police Department and Public Services Department all present residents with a cost analysis of each department’s services into the future.

Myers has proposed that the first town-hall meeting should occur at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

Representatives of the city administration and Fire Department would make their presentations to the public during that evening.

The second meeting would take place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Community Center at Whitecliff Park. Myers has proposed that Police Department officials would make their presentation that morning.

The third meeting would occur at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at the Government Center. That meeting would cover the services of the city’s Public Services Department.

Myers wrote in his memo to elected officials that department heads would provide a complete picture of the city’s services from former levels and into the future.

“In terms of content for the meeting, I would suggest that the staff develop a PowerPoint presentation on what it costs to provide basic (current) services to our residents,” Myers wrote. “This PowerPoint presentation would provide residents with a historical perspective of how the city has already cut services levels and what it will cost in the future to maintain these reduced services.

“For example, the Fire Department would present its staffing level in 2004, its present staffing level (2008), what services the citizens receive at this staffing level and what it will cost to maintain that service level in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Each department head would be responsible for presenting this information and fielding technical questions from the public.”

While Robinson has said he will not be “an official participant” of the town-hall meetings because he is seeking re-election in April, Myers proposed that aldermen take an active role in the forums by inviting suggested changes from the public.

“The role of the board would be to introduce the meeting format and to solicit input from the public on changes they would like to see the city explore to further modify services or control costs, which would be later studied by staff and evaluated by the board,” Myers wrote.

The Board of Aldermen unanimously voted in November to schedule town-hall meetings in January, February and March to present status reports of the city’s services and solicit input from residents on possible improvements.

The decision to schedule town-hall meetings came on the heels of Robinson’s response to a Nov. 1 letter from Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer, who proposed contracting Crestwood’s fire and ambulance services through Mehlville at “a savings to the city of Crestwood of over $200,000 every year.”

Robinson replied that because Hilmer’s letter was not sent to Myers, who previously told the Call that he has questions concerning how Hilmer “arrived at his figures,” and because the Board of Aldermen already had completed work sessions for the 2008 budget, he would prefer “to be very cautious before changing such a critical life safety service.”

Hilmer’s original proposal stated that Mehlville could deliver fire, emergency medical services and dispatching for $2.1 million per year, less than Crestwood’s 2007 fire budget of $2,327,000.

Instead of considering Mehlville’s proposal, city officials decided they would rather first hear from residents on the city’s current services.

Board of Aldermen President Gregg Roby of Ward 3 has said he agrees with the city’s decision to hold off on the Mehlville fire district’s proposal because aldermen have already completed their review of the 2008 budget.

To make a jump to another fire district, Roby previously said he would require two steps — a vote of the people and the development of a request for proposals so the city could compete with other fire districts for bidding.

Aldermen have said they also agreed with the administration’s decision to hold off on the Mehlville fire district’s proposal because the city will better know the state of the city’s economy, specifically the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, in the next year.

To better facilitate the pending sale of that mall and to keep the city’s options open if that sale falls through, Crestwood aldermen unanimously voted in December to extend the city’s deadline to receive re-quests for proposals to redevelop the shopping center.

The new deadline for the Crestwood mall RDP — request for development proposals — now is March 3. The city’s RDP deadline originally was set for Dec. 14.

In August, aldermen unanimously voted to send an RDP to 82 developers to solicit offers to redevelop the struggling Crestwood mall, which has suffered from annual 13-percent decreases in sales-tax revenue in recent years.

Because the mall is the source of one-third of the city’s overall sales-tax revenue, city officials felt the need to issue an RDP and have since delivered it to a total of 124 developers.

But while the city took steps in August to solicit redevelopment bids, Westfield officials employed the consulting services of Eastdil Secured to assist in their efforts to sell the mall property, which is the only shopping center in the St. Louis area that the Westfield Group still fully owns.

Those efforts since have resulted in an unnamed company interested in purchasing the mall from Westfield.

Despite Westfield’s talks with that potential buyer, city officials view the RDP deadline’s extension to March 3 as a safety net in case negotiations fail between Westfield and the anonymous company.

City officials already have been grappling with the loss of revenue at the Crest-wood mall from the October closing of Dillard’s, which was one of the mall’s three anchor stores.

The city’s administration has projected that the closing of Dillard’s will result in an annual loss of $300,000 to $350,000 in sales-tax revenue collected by the city.