Crestwood officials’ fiscal priorities criticized during hearing on budget

By Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

A Crestwood resident last week criticized city officials’ fiscal priorities during a public hearing on the city’s proposed 2018 budget.
Resident Martha Duchild contended the proposed budget contains many “nice-to-have items” as opposed to “need-to-have” items, and urged the board to take another look at the budget with the goal of reducing expenditures.
The Board of Aldermen conducted first readings of ordinances approving the 2018 general fund and park and stormwater fund budgets. Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel was absent from the Nov. 28 meeting.
Final approval of the ordinances is scheduled to be considered by the board when it meets Tuesday, Dec. 12.
Aldermen voted 7-0 to adopt ordinances approving the city’s 2018 capital improvement fund and sewer lateral fund budgets.
The proposed budget projects total expenditures of $14,830,096 with anticipated revenues of $13,645,312 — a deficit of $1,184,784. An ending fund balance of $7,748,918 is projected on Dec. 31, 2018.
City Administrator Kris Simpson originally proposed a 2018 budget that projected a total deficit of $1,083,784.
However, during two Ways and Means Committee meetings attended by all eight aldermen, the total deficit increased by $101,000, primarily due to the board’s decision to reduce projected sales-tax revenue.
Simpson has noted that carryover projects from 2017 that are included in the proposed budget in both the park and stormwater fund and the capital improvement fund are the reason for the projected overall deficit.
As proposed, general fund revenues for 2018 total $9,337,797 with anticipated expenditures of $9,199,738 — a surplus of $138,059. With an estimated beginning balance of $5,340,045, an ending balance of $5,478,104 is projected.
Simpson’s original budget projected general fund revenues totaling $9,403,290 with anticipated expenditures of $9,194,670 — a surplus of $208,620.
Aldermen two years ago adopted a fund-balance policy mandating the city maintain a general fund reserve no less than 45 percent.
The proposed budget anticipates a general fund reserve of 59.5 percent.
Included in the proposed budget’s general fund are $525,000 in sales-tax revenue from Proposition P, a countywide half-cent sales tax for police and public safety, and roughly $1.3 million from the city’s Proposition C, a 45-cent tax-rate increase.
Both measures were approved by voters in April.
During a public hearing on the general fund budget, Duchild noted that the Affton Board of Education voted to voluntarily roll back the school district’s 2017 tax rate by 35 cents due to an unexpected increase in assessed valuation.
Crestwood aldermen opted to levy the full 45 cents of the Prop C tax-rate increase.
Reading from a mailer, Duchild quoted Affton Board of Education President Tom Bellavia, who stated, “It is vitally important that our Board of Education remain fiscally responsible, and that includes easing the tax burden on our community whenever possible.”
She also quoted Superintendent Steve Brotherton, who stated, “… We, together with our Board of Education, feel strongly that the district should continue to live within our means. We are committed to helping our community stay strong.”
“I read that because the Affton school board understands the concept of living within your means, which is defined by distinguishing the nice-to-haves from the need-to-haves,” Duchild told aldermen. “Crestwood’s 2018 budget contains several nice-to-haves. The most obvious and perhaps egregious of which is the proposed expenditure of $10,000 in postage plus additional expenditures on software to re-issue the city newsletter mailings.
“The need for the city to live within its means is underscored by the $25 million pile of dirt currently sitting where the mall development is supposed to be underway. At nearly a quarter-million dollars projected expenditure, the real winner in the 2018 budget is not the taxpayer, but Lashly & Baer, the city’s law firm.
“I’m asking that the board and city take another look at the 2018 budget with the goal of managing expenditures so that only need-to-have items are included …,” she said.
The city’s cost for legal services has been steadily increasing since 2012 when Crestwood spent $123,784. Legal services cost $162,583 in 2013, $144,363 in 2014, $156,845 in 2015 and $198,061 in 2016.
For 2017, total expenditures of $226,000 are projected, while the proposed 2018 general fund budget would allocate $225,000 for legal services.
As proposed, parks and stormwater fund revenues total $1,778,484 with anticipated expenditures of $1,963,459 — a deficit of $184,975. With an estimated beginning balance of $1,010,205, an ending fund balance of $825,231 is projected.
Simpson’s original budget projected parks and stormwater fund revenues totaling $1,801,536 with anticipated expenditures of $1,954,584 — a deficit of $153,048.
Duchild, the only resident to address the board regarding the proposed budget, also spoke during a public hearing on the park and stormwater fund budget.
“The only expenditure right now that I’d like to comment on is the Beautification Committee,” she said. “While I appreciate the work that they’re doing, I believe with the decrease in revenues which the board has adjusted for 2018, I believe $7,000-plus is a bit high for a committee whose money can be raised privately. And so I would ask that the board reduce the amount allocated to beautification …”
During one of the Ways and Means Committee meetings, Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter’s motion to reduce the Beautification Committee’s budget to $7,000 from $10,000 was approved.
The board took no action Nov. 28 to further reduce the committee’s budget.
For the approved capital improvement fund next year, total revenues of $2,390,450 are anticipated with projected expenditures of $3,531,899 — a deficit of $1,141,449.
With an estimated beginning balance of $2,315,375, an ending fund balance of $1,173,926 is anticipated.
Simpson’s original budget projected capital improvement fund revenues totaling $2,296,847 with anticipated expenditures of $3,439,782 — a deficit of $1,142,935.
The approved sewer lateral fund projects total revenues of $138,580 with anticipated expenditures of $135,000 — a surplus of $3,580.
With an estimated beginning balance of $268,077, an ending balance of $271,657 is projected.