The Crestwood Board of Aldermen is scheduled to consider final approval of the city’s 2016 budget when it meets next week.
During a nearly five-and-a-half-hour meeting last week, aldermen voted to approve first readings of four ordinances related to the proposed 2016 budget, which initially projected total expenditures of $11,744,815 with anticipated revenues of $10,707,316 — a deficit of $1,037,499.
First readings of ordinances for the general fund and capital improvement fund budgets were approved by 7-1 votes, with Ward 2 Alderman Justin Charboneau opposed.
First readings of the park and stormwater and sewer lateral budgets were approved with unanimous votes.
Final approval of the measures will be considered when the board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.
The original 2015 budget adopted by the Board of Aldermen last December projected total revenues of $11,808,800 with anticipated expenditures of $12,465,416 — a deficit of $656,616.
The city’s Ways and Means Committee initially recommended a 2016 budget that projected a deficit of more than $1,198,000.
After meeting over two nights in late October for more than seven hours, aldermen agreed to reduce the amount of the projected deficit by more than $160,000 to $1,037,499.
On Nov. 24, Ward 3 Alderman Grant Mabie introduced a series of amendments to the proposed 2016 budget designed to reduce the projected deficit to nearly $664,000. Not all of the amendments were approved, so the projected deficit for the proposed 2016 budget is nearly $678,000.
With an estimated beginning fund balance of more than $6.9 million, the city would have a fund balance of roughly $6.2 million at the end of 2016.
During a public hearing on the proposed budget, five residents addressed the board, including former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder and resident Martha Duchild.
Nieder suggested that the board return the proposed 2016 budget to interim City Administrator Frank Arnoldy and instruct him to balance the budget without using reserves. Arnoldy, who also serves as police chief, was named interim city administrator after former City Administrator Mark Sime resigned in October.
“… A group of citizens who are closely scrutinizing the actions of this administration are growing concerned with chatter about tax increases, the unbalanced budget and policies of this administration,” he said, noting the residents had formulated some recommendations regarding the 2016 budget, including, “… A strong suggestion that the Board of Alderman extend the current budget and return the proposed 2016 document to the city administrator, and task him with the job of balancing the budget without using reserves, as well as providing plans to return the reserve balance to its previous total …”
Duchild alleged that Mayor Gregg Roby had violated the city Charter by instructing Sime to have department heads list every need they had and not cut those items before presenting the proposed budget to aldermen.
She cited a post on the mayor’s Facebook page in which he wrote, “In the past, the city administrator would go over the department budgets and make cuts before presenting the budget to the board. By doing so, many items were cut as non-critical needs to be addressed in future years’ budgets. In my mind, this was not a sustainable practice.”
In response to a question from Duchild, Roby acknowledged that Sime had complied with his request “for the most part.”
Under the Charter, the city administrator is required to submit a recommended budget to the mayor and aldermen, Duchild noted, adding, “… The fact that it is being presented to the mayor assumes that the mayor has had no prior involvement in creating the budget …”
She later added, “In this case for the 2016 budget, the mayor crossed a line established by the city Charter, inserting himself into the budget preparation process in violation of the Charter. The budget that was delivered to Ways and Means was not the budget that the city administrator would have prepared, but instead was a budget the mayor requested because in your mind what the city administrator normally would have done was not sustainable.
“The 2016 budget was front loaded with every expense. In asking that the city administrator not make the necessary budget cuts, the budget that was presented had greatly distorted expenses, leaving a $1 million deficit …”
The mayor later said city officials have tried to be “realistic” with the proposed 2016 budget.
“I’m sorry that Mrs. Duchild left because I think that it’s important that at this point in time, people know we’ve gone through this budget with Ways and Means and we’ve been through it with two days with the Board of Aldermen in the work sessions,” Roby said. “And one of the things that’s very critical to this community is that we provide services to the residents that meet their expectations and that the people that are providing those services have the proper training to be able to provide those services.
“So Mrs. Duchild was right. I did ask the city administrator to please don’t reduce what the city department heads are asking for, but make sure that what they ask for is what they really need. That it’s appropriate because we need to have good, solid numbers, and if all we’re going to do is go through the budget and just chop a thousand here and a thousand there and trying to make it look like we’re going to get this thing balanced, it isn’t going to happen …”
Eliminating street repairs next year would bring the budget close to being balanced, but Roby said, “That’s five-hundred-and-something dollars. That will get it down real quick to a balanced budget. But I’m not going to take the screaming phone calls from the residents (asking) ‘Why aren’t my streets being fixed?’ So I think that we’ve tried to be realistic with this budget. I realize there are some numbers that can be massaged, but I think that this board, quite frankly, has to be realistic with and candid with the citizens and let them know that we’re doing our best with what we’ve got to operate with … We have cut corners over the years and we just can’t continue to do that — not and maintain the services that we’re providing “
Projecting revenues and expenditures is not an exact science, Roby later noted.
“… These budgets are a total moving target. I mean if there’s anybody here in this room that’s got the crystal ball that can tell me exactly what our revenues are going to be at the end of the year and exactly what our expenditures are going to be at the end of the year, then please come up here and you can have my position on this dais because we certainly can’t do it,” he said.
“It’s a crap shoot. It’s guesswork. You give it your best estimate based on previous years and you work from there, but it’s not a specific science …”