Crestwood board considers approval of city’s 2013 budget

Motion by Trueblood to cut animal control position fails

By Kari Williams

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen recently gave initial approval to the city’s 2013 budget, which includes a 1-percent, merit-based raise for city employees and reduced salaries for two administrative roles.

Aldermen were scheduled to consider final approval of the 2013 budget Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Aldermen voted 6-2 Nov. 27 to approve the amended 2013 general fund budget with Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan and Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood opposed.

The city’s three major funds — general, capital improvement and park and stormwater — and its nonmajor fund, sewer lateral, initially showed a surplus of $3,677, according to Finance Officer Greg Kremer, but after hiring two employees, expenditures increased by $10,247.09. As a result, the budget was at a roughly $6,570 deficit.

Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach suggested reducing the salary for public services director — due to former Public Services Director Jim Eckrich leaving the city — to return to a balanced budget.

Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild made a motion to reduce that roughly $90,000 salary by $10,000 and said he believes the position still would be within market value, while “recapturing the $6,570, plus a little bit more.”

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel seconded Duchild’s motion, which received a 4-4 vote. Mayor Jeff Schlink did not break the tie, so the motion died.

Wallach, who voted against Duchild’s motion, told the board he believed $10,000 was “too sharp,” then made a motion to reduce the salary to $82,500.

Duchild seconded the motion, which passed 7-1. Duncan was opposed.

The board also reduced the salary for the new city administrator, who has not yet been selected, to $93,000 from $100,000.

While discussing possible reductions, Trueblood suggested eliminating the city’s animal control position, which Kremer said costs the city $48,874.77, including salary, benefits and taxes.

“I know this is like touching a third rail of politics here in Crestwood, but I still feel it strongly enough to make a motion that we delete this from the budget for this year,” Trueblood said.

However, Schlink said the city code requires the city to have an animal control position and that it be filled. Schlink also said he would not cut the position, and if Trueblood’s amendment would be approved, he would “go to the extreme of vetoing (the ordinance) to save somebody’s job.”

Trueblood’s motion failed in a 5-3 vote with Trueblood and Ward 3 Aldermen Jerry Miguel and Paul Duchild in favor.

Wallach, Duncan, Ward 2 Alderman Bob Deutschmann and Ward 4 Aldermen Dan Tennessen and John Foote were opposed.

While discussing the 1-percent, merit-based raise for city employees, which Duchild proposed, Duncan said employees deserve more than 1-percent and expressed concern about how department heads will administer the raise.

“We’re putting an extra burden on those department heads to come up with a plan and how to do that,” Duncan said. “…I have a problem with the 1 percent that’s in the budget because I don’t know how it’s going to be administered.”

Trueblood said it is important to realize part of the ability to manage a department is “the ability to reward the better employees.”

“If we start managing how (department heads) manage, when we’re not experts in fields of police, fire, public works, parks, we’re putting ourselves in a position where we’re telling the person who’s the manager that we don’t think you know what you’re doing …,” Trueblood said.

Trueblood also said he agrees 1 percent is “ridiculous as a percent of raise,” but depending on how department heads administer the raises, some employees may get more than that, while others may get less.

Foote said he has not seen anything encouraging about the city’s finances since the board put a 35-cent tax-rate increase on the ballot in 2008, which voters rejected.

“It’s been kind of an interesting ride since 2008 when we picked up a sharp knife and in a butcher-way started cutting,” he said.

Foote also said he does not believe Crestwood residents “fully understand” the city is trying to function on a tax rate of 24.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

“This is dependent upon a strong mall, which we don’t have and I see no choice other than to bring the attention of our residents to this fact,” Foote said. “… If we’re going to survive, we’re going to have to find a way to pay for our services.”

Foote also referenced Affton Fire Protection District voters recently approving a 21-cent tax-rate increase, which cost Crestwood roughly an additional $95,000 due to the annexed part of the city served by the fire district.

Duncan said she believes the board can look at the payments to the AFPD and “look at carving out some of our services and looking at going to the voters.”

“We have no control over what Affton continues to charge us and there are people sitting up here with us that are in an area that we have to pay extra money for,” Duncan said. “I would think that would be a good place to start.”

To place a tax-rate increase before voters, Trueblood told the board an alderman simply has to make a motion to ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance to put the increase on the next scheduled ballot.

“We try to cut so it doesn’t have to (happen) that way and it’s voted down, but then no one brings up the fact here’s the way of solving it …,” Trueblood said. “I just wish that would happen once so the board can vote on it and move on instead of being told monthly that we’re going to have that agenda facing us and nothing done with it.”

However, Duncan said she does not believe she could make a decision without information before the January deadline to place a measure on the April ballot.

Both the park and stormwater and sewer lateral budgets were approved 7-1, with Duncan opposed.

The capital improvement budget, as amended to increase the allocated amount for the purchase of a fire truck, was approved 7-1. Duncan was opposed.