Crestwood on the right track, but needs money, mayor says

By BURKE WASSON

Amidst confusion over Crestwood’s financial status, Mayor Roy Robinson said he has the city on the right track — but needs more money.

During a March 21 town-hall meeting at the Community Center at Whitecliff Park that was at times both informative and contentious, Robinson and city leaders laid out their economic goals for Crestwood.

On top of that list was Proposition S, a proposed 20-cent tax-rate increase that would generate funds to pay off $3.5 million in debt and credit expenses owed by the city of Crestwood. Voters will decide on the proposal Tuesday.

If approved, the city’s tax rate would increase from 24 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 44 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The tax would last seven years and accumulate an estimated $540,000 per year. That figure would add up to $3.78 million across the proposed tax’s seven-year life.

While she said Prop S is not a cure for Crestwood’s financial woes, Citizens for Proposition S Committee member Char Braun told residents it is the step in the right direction that Crestwood needs to get out of debt.

To accomplish the means for that cure for Crestwood’s financial hole, Robinson and City Administrator Frank Myers illustrated numerous ways the city has cut expenses.

These have included city staff reductions, a salary freeze, consolidation of services, justification of expenses, cutting hours at the Whitecliff Park Community Center, deferring capital items like street maintenance and vehicle purchases, planning a complete inventory of city property — something Robinson said has never been done before — and forming a projected balanced budget in Crestwood for the first time in five years.

Myers further illustrated these cuts by pointing out that city staff has been cut from the equivalent of 130.25 employees in 2002 to 107.25 employees in 2006.

The city administrator also expressed the need for the extra funds that Prop S could generate by pointing out that Crestwood sales tax revenue — which is figured to comprise roughly 32 percent of the city’s revenue — has dropped $400,000 since 2002.

One of the largest sources of Crestwood’s sales tax revenue — Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood — could be getting a facelift as soon as this year.

Robinson said he is under the impression that Westfield corporate representatives are scheduled to meet in May with the Board of Aldermen to discuss a community improvement district measure, or a one-cent sales tax increase within the mall’s boundaries. This would make it possible for Westfield representatives to make improvements like restructuring Dillard’s, adding new stores and restaurants, building a new stadium-seating movie theater and moving the food court near that theater.

The mayor also expressed optimism that more sales tax revenue will be generated with the Shop ‘n Save that is scheduled to open this summer in Watson Plaza. He also rattled off numerous new residential properties like the Villas at Grantwood, the Villages at Sappington and the Villages at Rock Hill that are moving forward.

While some town-hall audience members and Robinson himself said it has been difficult to wait for Westfield’s intentions, the mayor said it is simply all the city can do.

“They’re pretty independent,” Robinson said. “We don’t go in there and tell them what to do. But whatever we do in the mall has to bring people into the community. I know people don’t like to hear it, but we have to adjust to the times.”

Another topic that some audience members did not like to hear was that the Board of Aldermen unanimously agreed Feb. 28 to pay more than $74,500 to former City Administrator and Police Chief Don Greer for his retirement and more than $35,000 to former Director of Finance Diana Madrid for her resignation.

When questioned that the city of Crestwood was either the most generous city in the world or its leaders are withholding information, Robinson answered that the city “dodged a bullet” with its severance package agreements.

“There’s legal ramifications,” the mayor said. “I’m prevented in talking in detail about what happened. All I can say is God was looking over us, folks. Trust me. We could have been much worse off if we hadn’t come to an agreement. You’re just going to have to trust us on this one, folks.”

But as far as trust in the current Crestwood government goes, Robinson assured citizens that they have nothing to fear and that with their help — by namely voting for Proposition S — the people can improve their city from the errors of previous administrations.

“We’re past that,” Robinson said. “We’re moving forward. I’m not going to get into this blame game. We have made positive changes to the city. We’re working hard to settle the lawsuits generated by previous people.

“Just have a little faith.”