Crestwood board OKs budget with 2-percent pay hike

Duchild, Tsichlis concerned about deficit spending in 2015

By Mike Anthony

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted last week to adopt a 2015 budget that includes a 2-percent pay raise for employees, the addition of a full-time planning position and three new part-time positions.

The 2015 budget projects expenditures totaling $12,461,917 with anticipated revenue of $11,808,800 — a deficit of $653,117.

Aldermen previously voted to approve an amendment to the capital improvement budget related to the Spellman Avenue reconstruction project that reduced expenditures by $250,000 and decreased revenues by $200,000. As a result, the total projected deficit for the 2015 budget decreased to $701,116 from $751,116.

At the board’s Dec. 9 meeting, aldermen adopted an amendment to the capital improvement budget that reduced expenditures by $48,000. Earlier that night, the board voted to approve the purchase of a skid-steer loader this year instead of in 2015, allowing expenditures in next year’s capital improvement budget to be reduced by $48,000.

As a result, the projected 2015 budget deficit decreased to $653,117.

Ordinances adopting the 2015 general fund and capital improvement fund budgets were approved by 6-2 votes, with board President Mike Tsichlis and Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild opposed.

An ordinance adopting the park and stormwater budget was approved 5-2 with Tsichlis and Duchild dissenting. Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood was not present for this vote, having left the meeting, which lasted nearly 4 hours and 20 minutes, to fulfill a volunteer commitment.

Aldermen voted 7-0 to adopt an ordinance approving the sewer lateral fund.

The board voted to approve the first readings of the budget ordinances at its Nov. 25 meeting. At that meeting, Duchild, who previously served on the Ways and Means Committee until Mayor Gregg Roby replaced him with Trueblood earlier this year, read a statement expressing his disappointment with the proposed budget, City Administrator Mark Sime and the Ways and Means Committee, which includes Roby, Trueblood and Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach.

Duchild noted that when the board voted in the new members of the Ways and Means Committee, he asked each member and Sime if they intended to deliver a balanced budget to the board and was told that was their intent.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Duchild again expressed concerns about the amount of the projected deficit, noting the long-term liability that will be created by the addition of the full-time urban planner position, a part-time position in the city clerk’s office, a part-time clerk in the Public Works Department and a part-time mechanic in fleet management.

“… In my opinion, the city has gotten by these years without those positions. The only one that I would pause on would be probably the part-time mechanic’s area … The concern I have is that you’re taking on a long-term liability …,” he said, noting it’s easier to create a position than it is to eliminate one.

“… I caution the board that we’re going, again, down a road where we were back in early 2000, and that was creating these positions with really — really under debt in the general fund. So the general fund is not balanced this year … nor will it be going forward if the budgets hold. Now in 2014, there are certainly many reasons why we’re in a good financial position, but a lot of those had to do with employees leaving the city and those vacant positions staying open for quite some time,” Duchild said, noting that Mickey Viles, the city’s finance officer, is no longer with the city.

No explanation was given for the departure of Viles, who began his duties as finance officer Aug. 11.

Duchild then made a motion to remove the planning position from the budget.

Tsichlis seconded the motion, saying, “… This budget is so far off the field of what we were promised, and on public record, it would be. I feel compelled to join Alderman Duchild in this … I just feel like we were told one thing — something else dramatically different happened and I’ve got a problem with that …”

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding asked, “… What’s the dollar amount associated with this planning position?”

Sime said the budget includes a base salary of $80,000, not including benefits.

Duchild said benefits could bring the total cost of the post to more than $100,000.

Wallach noted that at the board’s Nov. 25 meeting, he provided information to aldermen regarding 27 or 28 other local municipalities that showed 18 of them have some type of planner on staff — roughly 65 percent. He also said that he believed the planning position is needed in the budget, but said he would be willing to modify the starting date for the position.

Ward 4 Alderman Mike Vincent said, “Well, I’ve had several discussions with Mr. Sime about this, and I think the need is basically the fact that the city and he need — need some more arms and legs. I think we have taken a needed bold step in saying we will do a comprehensive study, we’ll get PGAV (Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets) involved and this whole mall thing’s coming down the pike. And when all this comes, there’s going to be a lot of work, and since I’m a champion of Mr. Sime, I approve of what he does, but I’m also realistic in saying there’s only so much one person can do …

“When I asked Mr. Sime about this position, what I heard just as much was he needs help … I’m concerned about all of the work getting done and think this position is important — sooner or later …”

Duchild said, “… To Alderman Wallach, how many of those cities of the 28 or the 18 are running deficit budgets?”

Wallach said, “… I can’t answer that.”

Duchild said, “… We are. I mean that’s kind of my point. We don’t have the money for this, and to me, it’s an extravagance, and we don’t even have a plan from the developer of the mall or the owner of the mall. So why even put it in the budget? If we had a need for it later, then, yeah, take it up later. But creating a full-time position, legitimately it’s going to be very difficult to remove that position in the future, all other things being equal.

“If you really need help, contract it out …,” he continued, later adding the new positions will total more than $250,000.

“Over five years, that’s over $1.25 million …,” Duchild said.

Aldermen voted 5-3 to reject Duchild’s motion with Duchild, Tsichlis and Breeding in favor. Opposed were Wallach, Trueblood, Vincent, Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter and Ward 3 Alderman Bill Boston.

Aldermen later voted unanimously to approve a motion by Wallach, seconded by Stadter, to amend the general fund budget, reducing the allocation for the planning position by 50 percent, to $40,000.

However, City Attorney Lisa Stump ruled that the vote was invalid because a motion, second and voice vote had already been approved to conduct the second reading of the ordinance approving the general fund budget. However, aldermen indicated to Sime that their preference is the planning position not be filled until the start of the third quarter of 2015.