Crestwood board considers placing 20-cent tax hike on ballot

By MIKE ANTHONY

The second reading of an ordinance to place a 20-cent tax-rate increase on the April 4 ballot was set to be considered earlier this week by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen.

Aldermen were scheduled to meet Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

The first reading of the ordinance to place the 20-cent tax-rate increase on the April 4 ballot was conducted near the end of a more-than-six-hour meeting last week. Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel voted against a second reading of the ordinance, while Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox was absent from the Jan. 10 meeting.

Under the City Charter, at least one week must elapse between introduction and final passage of an ordinance unless an immediate second reading is approved by unanimous vote of the Board of Aldermen.

As proposed, the 20-cent tax-rate increase would have a nine-year sunset provision after which the city no longer would collect the additional 20 cents.

If approved, a 20-cent tax-rate increase would generate roughly $540,000 annually, and would be used to pay off any loans or indebtedness, eliminate any encumbrances on city-owned property and provide sufficient funds for cash flow to remove the need for a line of credit.

During the discussion of the proposal, Mayor Roy Rob-inson first expressed doubts about placing a tax-rate in-crease on the April ballot, suggesting August might be a better time. But he later assured aldermen and residents that he would support a tax-rate increase if one was placed before voters in April.

Board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 said he was concerned that if a tax-increase is placed on the August ballot and fails, the next opportunity would be November — too late to generate revenue for 2007.

“If we put it on the ballot in April this year and it fails, we have one shot at it after that …,” he said, advocating placing the measure on the April ballot.

But Miguel later said he had “several concerns” about placing a tax-rate increase on the April ballot.

“We started off the meeting this evening discussing a new city administrator and we failed to make a decision there. So I’m concerned that we’re in transition from an administrative standpoint,” he said, adding he believes that creates an element of uncertainty in people’s minds. “We’ve been talking about a new city administrator now for several months. I think a new city administrator could — just by the fact that we’ve made a change that there’s an opportunity to move forward.

“I do not get good feelings from the people that I talk to as far approving a tax in April. We just got turned down on one a few months ago … I don’t think we have the trust of the people out there … It still comes back to that,” Miguel said, adding he believed aldermen needed to do more homework on an exact amount to seek.

“We haven’t even touched on the consequences of proposing a tax and it not passing. So I think we need to define what we need a tax for, what we would be giving up — what we would have to give up if it failed. We’re down to less than three months from the election day. I think it’s going to take more than three months to spread the word. We’re going to need volunteer groups to help present this (tax increase) to their neighbors and friends and convince the people, the majority of the people to vote for it,” he said.

“It seems to me that we need at least five or six months to prepare for a tax issue if we really want to do a good job of presenting it and have a good expectation of it passing … I do not feel good about an April election …,” he said, noting that voters in April will consider aldermanic candidates and four proposed charter amendments, including one that would remove term limits for aldermen if it is approved.

“I can assure you that some of those issues, like term limits, are going to be very divisive, and I would think that there — I would expect that there would be some carryover from that onto a (tax-rate increase) … I would rather this board get things set up, get things prepared, get things organized with an August target even though there will be a transition on this board in April …,” Miguel said.

Referring to voters’ rejection of a bond issue last April, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher said, “I feel like we’re saying the same things all over again. This is deja vu from last year when you, Alderman Miguel, said the very same thing. You weren’t going to support the package unless you liked it, and then you agreed that you would and then you didn’t. And look what happened. I think you and — I’m going to be delicate here so you (Robinson) don’t turn off my microphone — but I think you and, with respect, your scorched-earth campaign have divided this town. And I don’t know how to repair it.

“I think everyone is so divided in here. I’m getting so many hateful looks from people out in the audience, people who have no idea who I am or what I am or — they don’t even understand why they hate me, and it’s unbelievable to me … But I think this town is so divided because this all was turned into a political issue last April. I still don’t believe we have any chance in hell of getting anywhere with the voters. So I don’t know what the answer is and I hate to be pessimistic and negative, but I’ve lost complete confidence, and I don’t have a solution either because I don’t think I contributed to the split ….”

Trueblood later urged placing a tax-rate increase on the April ballot, noting he had been contacted by some residents whose comments were almost identical to some of those made by Miguel.

“… I have to question whether or not there’s already a campaign together to stop this city from recovering until — another thing I was told — the current city administrator’s gone. In other words, nothing will happen until that happens,” he said. “And I find both those issues disturbing because they show a shallowness. They show a self-centeredness and a lack of vision that they would hold that type of disturbing animosity to somebody that they’d cut their own nose off to spite their own face. Yeah, I think there’s a campaign of mistrust. It’s disturbing …

“If the board wants August, so be it. In April, so be it. But I think if you go to August, you’ve got one bullet left, and I’m not convinced that at that particular point the people that are working at this time against that will be for it even then,” he added.

Miguel later said, “The main thing I’m saying is that I think we need more time to sell this. I don’t disagree with the need. The need is there. My concern now is the timing … I’m concerned that there is a lot of people out there that we’ve got to reach and convince that we need this, and we need to spell out in great detail how much we need, why we need it and also what will the consequences (be). What will happen if we are unable to — if the tax doesn’t pass …”

Kelleher later said, “I have to dispute some of the things that Alderman Miguel says because if you think we need six months to get the word out and we’re going to wait until August — well, surprise — six months is next month. We start in February. That’s not going to happen. I guarantee it. We’ve got all this business going on now and everybody’s going to be consumed with elections, and trying to get all this other stuff taken care of. It’s not going to happen. So it’s going to be April or May before we take a look at this, and we’re still going to be three months away. I guarantee it …

“Why didn’t you do this back in December of 2004 when we were talking about putting money on the ballot or putting an issue on the ballot in 2005 … and then we wouldn’t be having these discussions now,” he continued. “So I ful-ly believe that you’re the snake in the grass because until we know what the heck you’re …”

Robinson attempted to interject, but Kelleher continued, “No, I mean that kindly. I don’t mean that derogatorily, but I do to the degree I don’t know where you’re going to go … I don’t believe that we’re going to get anywhere, again I’m going to say it — you can write this down — we’re not going to pass a single thing unless we’re a unified board … you’re going to hold your cards close to your chest. You’re not going to tell us what you’re going to do, and I don’t want you to turn on us again like you did last year. And I think that’s my biggest fear right now of whether we put it on the ballot in April or August, you’re the unknown quantity …”