Crestwood mayor slated to announce choice for new city administrator

New Crestwood administrator to inherit time of transition

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson was set this week to recommend his choice for a new city administrator.

Robinson said he would make that recommendation to the Board of Aldermen during a closed session Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

While declining to identify his selection for city administrator, the mayor said Monday he is confident that his choice would “be a good one for the community.”

Crestwood Fire Chief Karl Kestler has served as interim city administrator since March 28, when former City Administrator Frank Myers resigned to accept a position as city administrator of neighboring Glendale.

While Robinson hoped to find a new city administrator by June, the search has been extensive as the city formed a commission comprised of aldermen and city employees to review candidates.

The city received more than 30 applications for the position, and city officials had whittled those applications down to five in June after Robinson assessed this spring that “eight to 10 of them are probably capable.”

The city has advertised for a new city administrator at an annual salary range of $75,000 to $95,000.

Myers previously was paid an annual salary of $91,800 in Crestwood and now is receiving that same salary in Glendale to go along with a more comprehensive benefits package.

Robinson has emphasized that “a strong financial background” is required to succeed Myers, but also has said that there are other areas to consider and that a financial background “will not be the deciding factor.”

The city used a search panel in finding a new city administrator. Robinson said that team was comprised of two to three aldermen along with two to three department heads. To judge applicants with a truly unbiased perspective, the mayor has said the panel judged applications on an anonymous basis.

Crestwood’s new city administrator will inherit a time of transition as the city’s mall was sold in March to two development companies.

The former Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood now temporarily is named Crestwood Court and is owned by Angelo, Gordon & Co. of New York and Centrum Properties of Chicago. More than half of the mall’s available retail shops are vacant, and the city has struggled to gain sales-tax revenue from Crestwood Court.

While city officials reported last year that 53 percent of Crestwood’s sales-tax revenue comes from the mall, that percentage has dropped in recent months.

With the mall’s pending redevelopment, Robinson believes it is imperative to find a city administrator with experience in managing finances.

At the same time, he has emphasized that experience in many areas will be an advantage to Crestwood.

Centrum Properties managing partner Sol Barket and associates met June 24 with Robinson and four aldermen to discuss the company’s plans to redevelop the mall property.

At the June 24 Board of Aldermen meeting, those aldermen said they are convinced the new owners of Crestwood Court have a stake in future redevelopment as well as trying to draw shoppers in the present.

As previously reported, the property is expected to be redesigned as a “town center” with a square or fountain serving as a centerpiece. Its focus will remain retail, but some residential pieces are being considered. In addition, Centrum and Angelo, Gordon are planning a larger movie theater, restaurants and a facility to house outdoor concerts

While the mall today is roughly 1 million square feet, the new owners have indicated that the new redevelopment would be 500,000 to 1 million square feet.

Mall owners also have proposed raising the mall property’s parking lot to street level along Watson Road and shared with aldermen that Macy’s perhaps is the only anchor building that will remain after redevelopment.

City officials are uncertain if plans to redevelop the mall will be made public by Aug. 5 when voters will consider a proposed tax-rate increase that would provide additional revenue during the mall’s redevelopment.

Because of the hit that the city will see in property-tax revenue from the mall’s $88.5 million drop in sales price from 1998 to 2008 as well as a 12-percent drop in sales-tax revenue from early 2007 to early 2008 that city officials believe will only increase during the mall redevelopment’s phases, city officials have asked voters to approve a tax-rate increase in August.

Aldermen voted 7-1 in May to place a tax-rate increase of 35 cents per $100 of assessed value on the Aug. 5 ballot.

Coupled with sinking revenues and rising expenses, city officials believe a property-tax increase is needed. The measure would generate an estimated $1,130,528 per year.

For an owner of a $200,000 home, the tax-rate increase would cost $133 per year, or roughly $11 per month.

A presentation of city finances at an April 30 town-hall meeting showed that while officials had budgeted $12,676,109 for city services in 2008, they believe that “the city may not have enough revenue to cover those expenditures.”

Officials have not projected the city’s overall revenues and expenses for 2009 and beyond, but fear that continued drops in revenue as well as rising costs for services will hurt the city’s finances.

Robinson has estimated that the city currently has from $3.5 million to $4 million in cash on hand, which he has said is “$2 million less in cash on hand” than the city had at the end of 2007 due to some one-time expenditures as well as a decline in revenue.

If the mall’s new owners allow their redevelopment plans to be public, Robinson has said he believes those plans would further persuade residents to support the 35-cent tax-rate increase.