Crestwood officials facing depletion of park-fund reserves

City officials ‘legally cooking the books,’ resident contends

By BURKE WASSON

Faced with the prospect of spending all cash reserves in Crestwood’s park and stormwater fund by the end of 2009, aldermen must decide whether to cut expenses, redirect expenses or refinance Aquatic Center debt slated to be retired in 2012.

City Administrator Jim Eckrich last week advised aldermen that this year’s budgeted use of more than $468,000 in park-and-stormwater cash reserves “will essentially deplete the reserves within that fund.”

The Board of Aldermen voted in December to approve a $13.7 million budget for 2009 that will be balanced with the use of more than $600,000 in cash reserves from the capital-improvements fund and park and stormwater fund. City officials estimated on Jan. 1 that Crestwood had roughly $3.4 million in cash reserves among its three major funds — the general fund, capital-improvements fund and park and stormwater fund.

But with revenues collected from a 2000 voter-approved half-cent sales tax into the park and stormwater fund falling short of previously projected figures, Eckrich believes aldermen must take action.

“The city implemented a park and storm-water fund (in 2000) with anticipated revenues of approximately $2 million,” Eckrich said. “Now we’re taking in the budget somewhere in the order of $1.2 million.

“Our sales taxes have decreased. At the same time, we’ve taken costs that used to be in the general fund and moved them into the park and stormwater fund.”

In 2004, aldermen added parks and recreation expenses into the park and stormwater fund, which originally was designed to fund only capital projects for parks, stormwater projects and Aquatic Center debt payments.

“So not only do you have a fund where you’ve taken in a lot less money than anticipated, but you have a fund that you put additional expenses into,” Eckrich said. “And those two courses of action don’t work very well financially. This city can’t afford in 2010, 2011 to continue to pay these costs from the park and stormwater fund. It just doesn’t work.”

With this in mind, Eckrich has developed the following proposals:

“Number one would be reduce expenditures in the park and stormwater fund by somewhere in the order of $560,000,” Eckrich said. “If that can’t be done through paper clips and pencils, that would have to be actions like closing the (Whitecliff) Community Center or closing a portion or all of the city’s parks.

“Or we could reduce expenditures in the general fund so that park and stormwater costs could be moved into the general fund. A large number of costs that are currently paid by the park and stormwater fund were previously paid by the general fund. So one course of action would be to move these costs back to the general fund, which creates its own set of problems.

“The third option — again, these are in no particular order — would be to pay a portion of the Aquatic Center debt from the capital-improvements fund or the general fund. The city can afford to make its 2009 payment, and its (2012) payment is essentially in escrow. So we have two payments we can’t make given the current finance — 2010 and 2011. When we could make those, we would use the capital-improvements fund or general-fund monies. Those monies could be considered a loan from those funds and the park and stormwater could repay those over time.

“A fourth option as I see it is we refinance the Aquatic Center debt. I’ve been provided some data that shows that the city could refinance the debt, paying essentially $350,000 (annually) until 2019 instead of the $1.1 million or so we’re expected to pay now (until 2012).”

Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder said he would consider using the general fund or capital-improvements fund to pay part of the Aquatic Center debt in 2010.

Additionally, Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby strongly opposed any proposal to close city parks, the Community Center or Aquatic Center.

“Closing these things down would defeat the purpose of having them,” Roby said. “They’re designed to generate revenue. You close the pool, you close the Community Center, you don’t sell any passes, you don’t have anybody using the facility, but you still have to maintain.”

With that in mind, Eckrich said he would move forward with studying the impact on the general fund and capital-improvements fund if those funds paid the Aquatic Center debt in 2010.

But resident Jerome Friedeck, who for years publicly has requested the funding of stormwater repairs near his home, criticized city officials for not funding stormwater projects and questioned the notion of transferring funds.

“I’ve been told for years and years to just wait until 2012,” he said. “The water park will be paid off and every penny is on stormwater. And I was told about the mall over there: ‘Good things are coming. I can’t tell you right now, but good things are coming.’ We’ve been hearing that over and over for years. And I’m sure you’ve heard me for many, many years on park and storm-water. What did you do since 2004 on storm-water? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. And there was at times a half-million dollars to spend on stormwater. It was never spent. Why?

“… Don’t say you didn’t have enough money. The money was there. It’s the way you people have spent it … That fund originally was for paying off the Aquatic Center, capital improvements for the parks and stormwater. Salaries, wages, fringe benefits and historic sites were never intended to be in there. That’s what happened. People put it in there … I understand in the books in your city you have the authority if something doesn’t balance right, all you have to do is change things. It’s legally cooking the books.”

“Nobody’s cooking the books …,” Mayor Roy Robinson said. “Look in any of the books you want.”

“I’m sure you’re out in the open with it,” Friedeck said. “But when you transfer to one fund, which is designed for something, and put it in a different fund, that is morally wrong.”

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland said, “Mr. Friedeck, with all due respect, I take a little exception at some of the shots that are being launched up here. Nobody’s mismanaging anything. I think one thing that is happening is revenues are going down, which you just identified. It was put on a ballot in the not-too-distant past and it didn’t pass.

“So we’ve got to come up with other options now to balance the budget and to pay our bills. That’s what we’re looking at. That’s what the city administrator was pointing out when he was talking about some of the options with the park and stormwater fund.

“We all wish things were different. And we all wish we could pave every street and we all wish we could fix every project that everybody has. That’s not reality right now.”