Crestwood mayor reflects on first term, says he’s kept the promises he made

First of two parts

By BURKE WASSON

“The Man, the Myth, the Legend.”

In Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson’s City Hall office, a mug emblazoned with that message offers this description of the mayor to visitors.

Reflecting last week on his time as mayor since 2005 and now unopposed until 2011, the man believes it is no myth that he has kept his promises to residents.

“My grandmother raised me and she was a big politician,” Robinson recalled. “She was in West Virginia and ran the county politics. She said to me when you promise something, you do it …

“I promised the people that I would change this city government. I’ve done it. I promised the people that I would rebuild their retail business. And I’ve done that. Has it been to the extent of others? I don’t know if anyone else could have done more. They might have. But I’ve done what I’ve told. I’ve done everything that I promised the people I would do when I ran for office.”

In an exclusive interview last week with the Call, Robinson reviewed his first mayoral term, which began in 2005 after he captured 54 percent of votes cast to defeat incumbent Mayor Tom Fagan. He also discussed the future of his second term as he is unopposed in the April election.

While voters rejected the $6 million Proposition 1 bond issue in the April 2005 election in which Robinson was elected, residents in 2006 approved Proposition S, a tax-rate-increase of 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The measure was designed to pay off $2 million in debt and a $1.5 million line of credit with Southwest Bank. In October 2006, aldermen eliminated that line of credit and converted the city’s debt into a $2.87 million annual-appropriation note with Royal Banks of Missouri.

Robinson said last week that he remains grateful to the community for approving Prop S as it allows the city to build cash reserves in its general fund instead of using the general fund to pay off debt. The ballot measure generates more than $540,000 per year and expires in 2013.

“Prop S is going for exactly what it’s supposed to,” he said. “Every penny. And if I find that it isn’t going there, somebody’s in real trouble. We all agreed that we would make sure that not a penny would be used other than paying off the debt. If somehow extra money comes in from Prop S, I don’t mind that going to pay off the note a little bit early.”

But when it comes to using excess cash in the general fund to make advance payments on the city’s debt, he believes the city would be wise to hold onto that money.

The city’s tax-exempt note contains a federal provision that limits the city’s general-fund balance to no more than 5 percent of the previous year’s expenses in that fund.

Auditor Mark Graves of Schmersahl Treloar & Co. estimated this week that the city ended 2007 with $522,094 more than that 5-percent limit. While some aldermen discussed using that money to help pay off the note, Robinson indicated last week that he would rather keep that extra cash by converting it into a taxable note.

“By rolling this money over and paying off this note early, it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference,” Robinson said. “By us keeping those funds that we need for emergency or for our cash-flow purposes, it’s better that we keep that instead of having to go out and borrow the money. If we run short and we can’t make payroll, we’re going to have to go get a line of credit at the bank.”

Robinson also said the extra cash helps provide a cushion for the city to keep enough money in its reserves and avoid a future tax-increase proposal.

“With the uncertainty with what we’re going to have to do at the mall and we’re trying to not have to go out and ask for additional taxes, we finally have enough funds,” he said. “We think that we can have the cash flow that we need to meet those low levels of cash coming into the city. I believe that we should keep some of it. If not, all of it …

“I hear some aldermen saying we’ve got to raise taxes because Dillard’s closed. And I’m saying just wait and see. We’re not there yet. And I will not support any tax on the people until I’m sure that we’re at the point where we have no other alternative. Right now, we have an alternative.

“We’ve done well in building up not a big reserve, but a nice reserve to be able to function without being extravagant. And I think that’s what the people want … I hate taxes worse than most people out there. I have to pay them, too. I’m not just going to jump on the bandwagon and raise taxes when I’m not sure that we need them.”

Regarding the city’s finances, Robinson has high hopes for the pending sale and redevelopment of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, which accounts for one-third of the city’s overall sales-tax revenue and has suffered from recent annual declines. The mayor views the mall property’s revival as Crestwood’s ticket to regain the respectability it once enjoyed around the region.

“My hope is that in the next 20 to 25 years, that (redevelopment) will give the city the amount of revenue necessary to keep this city going in the way it’s always been,” he said. “And it will also revive the stature of Crestwood throughout the state. When Mayor (Pat) Killoren was the mayor, she was involved in a lot of the state and national deals. Sometimes we didn’t agree. However, this city had a great amount of respect throughout the county and the state.

“When you mentioned Crestwood, everybody knew who you were talking about. And I think we’re on the verge of regaining a lot of that. Maybe not prestige because I’m not the type of mayor she was. She was more personal and probably involved more. But I think we’re on the verge of being someone that other communities can look at and say: ‘Hey, look what they did.’ And I hope to see the majority of this done over the next three years.”

Robinson said he views his first term as mayor as a return to financial stability that he believes had eroded up to 2005.

“When I came in, I didn’t realize how bad we were,” he said. “This city was just about to go in receivership, I believe. I don’t think it would have survived. I know there were people out there calling for bonds and all this stuff. It’s like selling your parks or selling your buildings and all this stuff. It’s a one-time effort and it only lasts so long. I think the bonds would have been spent and we would have been asking for more at this time if we had gotten the $6 million or whatever it was (from Proposition 1). It was a short-term fix to get the money to do it. And I don’t know where we would have been, but we wouldn’t have been a city based on what I found when I got here. And by what I recommended and the board agreed to, not always wholeheartedly, we got it done. We brought this city back to where it’s stable.”

But while he believes the city has improved since 2005, Robinson also realizes that the city must continue to stay frugal.

“Just because you’ve got a little extra money, you still have to watch to make sure that you don’t go crazy and get yourself back into the same hole that you were in before,” Robinson said. “It’s easy. And the only spending we’re trying to do … I mean, there’s people that didn’t like the fact we were trying to get police cars. We’ve got to think about buying a new fire truck probably by 2010. All these things are in the back of your mind and you’re trying to make sure that these things are done.”

The mayor is targeting 2012 as a “windfall” year because the $8.495 million in certificates of participation issued in 2001 to fund the construction of the city’s aquatic center will be retired then. By 2012, the city will have paid a total of $2,699,231.46 in interest on the certificates, bringing their total cost to $11,194,231.46.

“What we’re trying to do is stabilize until we get to 2012,” he said. “That’s my goal. Keep this city stabilized and get new development, which can offset some of the losses in revenue at some places like Dillard’s. We probably won’t do it all, but we’ll get a good portion. And by 2012, we will not only have the pool paid off, we’ll have one more year of Prop S. And in 2013, it will be paid off.”

Through the many decisions he has made as mayor, Robinson realizes that not everyone in the city has agreed with his actions. But he is confident that he has accomplished his goals and kept his promises to the city.

“Are there people who don’t like me just for who I am?” Robinson said. “There are. They’re out there. Are there people who were against me when I ran the last time who now are for me? There’s a lot of those.

“Are there people who supported me back then who now probably wouldn’t support me today? I think there’s probably a couple out there. But I’ve done what I said.”

Next week: Robinson discusses his relationship with the Board of Aldermen.