Crestwood board wants to inform citizens about proposed cuts

City’s revised five-year plan ‘sickens’ city administrator

Roy Robinson

Roy Robinson

By BURKE WASSON

Presented with administrative recommendations to reduce average annual expenditures by $2.28 million from 2010 to 2013, Crestwood aldermen last week focused on another plan — getting the word out to citizens.

Until 2013, City Administrator Jim Eckrich has proposed “to substantially reduce” planned street projects, building maintenance, vehicle/equipment purchases and capital improvements. He also has proposed making reductions in personnel.

With an average annual expenditure reduction of $2.28 million from 2010 through 2013, Eckrich said the city should be able to maintain a minimum beginning cash balance in all three major funds of 10 percent of total budgeted expenditures each year through 2013. He believes the city’s goal should be a cash balance of 20 percent of budgeted expenditures. Aldermen originally used more than $600,000 of the city’s $3.4 million in Jan. 1 cash reserves to balance a $13.7 million budget for 2009.

But the board already has cut $237,900 from 2009 expenses as the April 1 closing of the Crestwood Court Macy’s is expected to result in sales-tax revenue losses totaling $181,000 in 2009 and $350,000 in 2010.

The board last week discussed not only these proposed revisions to the city’s five-year plan, but also methods of making more citizens aware of the service cuts. Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby suggested that the city monthly publish its Crestwood Connections newsletter and list each proposed cut.

“That includes letting people know who have been talking to City Hall about their streets being fixed that those streets are not going to be fixed and letting them know that we’re going to be cutting specific items,” he said. “… We can sit here as aldermen and talk about how we’re balancing the budget.

“But what we’re really doing is just like the federal government is doing at this time with their stimulus package. We are incurring a tremendous amount of financial debt … It’s not going to get any better next year. It’s not going to get any better the next year. And by 2013, it’s still not going to be any better …

“These street repairs and these things are going to continue to have to be put off until such time as we find a revenue stream … and we can afford to get back into a positive mode of maintaining our city. Right now, we’re in a keep-it-from-sinking mode.”

Eckrich last week told aldermen that while his revised five-year plan “sickens” him, he realizes that these cuts would be necessary to keep the city financially stable.

“Being public-works director since 2003 and presenting this plan to you sickens me,” Eckrich told aldermen. “Me and my staff and (Public Works Director) Dzenana (Mruckovski) when she took over (in 2008) put together these street plans, these building-maintenance plans, these vehicle-replacement plans. And they’re nothing like they were. And they weren’t a wish list to start with … I’d argue those initial plans weren’t sufficient. But we’re reducing those … We are balancing our budget financially by creating additional maintenance needs in all areas. Parks, police equipment, fire equipment, it’s all over the place.”

Mayor Roy Robinson said he would not advocate a tax-rate increase to offset the need for these proposed cuts, but added that others could push for a tax-rate hike.

“I don’t want to be included with anybody asking for money from the taxpayers anymore,” he said. “I’m not going to be out there asking the citizens of this community to do it. I got their message loud and clear on the last one (the rejected six-year, 35-cent tax increase Proposition 1 in August).

“So, we’re going to have to see that they’re going to have to come to us and say ‘We need this so that we can go forward and fix the streets and do the things that we need.’ We tried to explain all that along the way, and it was ignored. So now, you’ll see we were telling the truth when we told you that we needed $1.1 million (annually) to keep us afloat … And yet, we had people on this board and people in the community saying: ‘They’ve got plenty of money and they don’t need it and they’re misusing it’ and all this other stuff. It was false then and it’s false now.”

Eckrich last week recommended that aldermen discuss proposed personnel cuts in closed session after the board’s Feb. 24 meeting because “specific identifiable employees” and “supporting documentation” would be discussed. But Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder said Eckrich’s memo to the board did not stipulate that any personal information about employees would be discussed in closed session. Because Missouri Revised Statute Section 610.021(3) calls for such personal information as performance and merit to be discussed to call a closed session, Nieder voted “no.”

“Mr. City Attorney, could you be very specific and tell me what matter justifies this closed session?” Nieder said.

“I believe that the matter is in relation to the city administrator’s memorandum to the Board of Aldermen outlining elimination of specific positions in the city of Crestwood, which involves specific people,” City Attorney Rob Golterman said. “And that is a personnel matter and qualifies under 610.021(3).”

“OK, I’m reading that section here ..,” Nieder said. “It says hiring, firing, disciplining, promotion or promoting of particular employees by a public governmental body when personal information about the employee is discussed or recorded.

“Personal information means information relating to the performance or merit of individual employees. I didn’t see anything like that in this particular memo that we’re going to discuss that.”

“You can vote against going into closed session,” Golterman replied to Nieder.

“I’m asking you for clarification because I don’t see that here,” Nieder said.

“I can’t without disclosing the closed nature of the information,” Golterman said. “Not in public.”

“Well, the question is are we going to talk about performance or merit of individual employees?” Nieder asked.

“Point of order,” Robinson said.

“Not point of order,” Nieder said. “I’m asking a specific question.”

“I don’t want to have to pick up my gavel,” Robinson said.

“Well, pick up your gavel,” Nieder said.

“So you will cease and desist,” Robinson said.

“No, I won’t,” Nieder said.

“Well, you’re not getting an answer,” Robinson said, instructing the board to vote on the closed session. The board voted 7-1 with Nieder opposed. After the open meeting was adjourned, Nieder told aldermen he would not attend the closed session.

When asked Feb. 25 if employees’ personal information was discussed in the Feb. 24 closed session, Eckrich said, “I would typically not answer questions about what was discussed in a closed session, but because your question pertains to the merit of the closed session, I feel comfortable answering. The answer is yes.”