Crestwood residents to decide fate of proposed 35-cent tax-rate hike

Foote says additional revenues needed to offset drops in sales, property taxes

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood residents will decide next week whether to approve a tax-rate increase on real and personal property of 35 cents per $100 that city officials say will maintain funding for city services in the face of falling revenues.

The Aug. 5 ballot measure Proposition 1 is a six-year, 35-cent tax-rate increase.

The ballot language for Proposition 1 states: “Shall the city of Crestwood, St. Louis County, Mo., impose a general property tax in the amount of $.35 additional on each $100 of assessed valuation of all taxable residential, commercial and personal property for the purpose of funding the city’s operations and providing services to the residents of Crestwood, said tax to be imposed for a period of six years from the year of passage?”

If approved, city officials say Prop 1 will “bridge a revenue gap that is anticipated to occur between 2009 and when the (Crestwood Court) mall redevelopment is complete.”

The mall’s owners have yet to reveal their redevelopment plans to the public and have not identified a start date for that redevelopment’s construction.

City officials also have indicated that Prop 1 could be terminated before its six-year sunset “should the city’s revenue stream see an influx of recovery.”

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.

Residents already pay a combined 37.4-cent tax rate between the city’s 20.5-cent municipal tax rate and 16.9-cent tax rate from the successful 2006 debt-service ballot measure Proposition S. Prop S will expire in 2012.

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

City officials have said that if the city can’t make up the revenue this year to pay for expenses, the city’s cash re-serve would be utilized.

While Mayor Roy Robinson estimated in May that the city had $3.5 million to $4 million in cash on hand, Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel — the only alderman who voted against placing Proposition 1 on the ballot — recently estimated that the city has roughly $5.5 million in cash on hand.

Crestwood’s 2007 audit showed that the city ended 2007 with a combined fund balance of $7,403,658 — an in-crease of more than $1 million from the city’s ending fund balance of $6,056,822 in 2006.

City officials point to three town-hall meetings that took place earlier this year as evidence that residents would like to see services remain the same.

The most recent issue of the city’s newsletter states that the “overwhelming message” from residents who attended these meetings was “keep our services the same.”

At those meetings, department heads identified future costs that they would like to see filled.

At a Prop 1 informational town-hall meeting on July 22, city officials said that the $1.1 million earned annually from Prop 1 would go toward paying for some of these projects.

In January, Fire Chief Karl Kestler identified future costs like the purchase of a new fire truck and updating firehouse facilities.

In February, Police Chief Michael Paillou said police vehicles and employee retention are two future concerns.

In March, then-Public Services Director Jim Eckrich, who was promoted in July to city administrator, identified future costs like stormwater projects, street improvements, deferred vehicle maintenance and park improvements.

Last week, Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby identified $522,000 of estimated park improvements.

Roby said Spellman Park needs $30,000 to repair its tennis court, Crestwood Park needs $50,000 to repair its tennis court, Sanders Park needs $42,000 to repair its tennis court and a proposed renovation of Sanders Park would cost $400,000.

Ward 4 Alderman John Foote added that aldermen need additional revenues to offset declines in sales tax and property tax.

The 2007 audit reports the city’s total revenue collected in its government funds in 2007 was $13,275,868. This marks a decrease in revenue of $749,000 from 2006.

Included in that decrease, the city saw a $446,976 drop in property-tax revenue from 2006 to 2007 and a $266,160 drop in sales-tax revenue from 2006 to 2007. The audit does note that the $446,976 decrease in property taxes is “due in part to protested taxes that were not received within two months after year end.”

“Our income has repeatedly gone down year after year after year,” Foote said. “And one mistake that was made was this — we have budgeted for less spending. That’s what we’re saying. The city of Crestwood each year cuts its income estimate and cuts its spending.”

But according to the city’s approved 2007 audit and 2008 budget, Crestwood’s spending increased in both 2007 and 2008.

The 2007 audit reports that Crestwood’s expenses in-creased by $845,753 from 2006 to 2007. The city spent $12,143,773 in 2007 and $11,298,020 in 2006.

This $845,753 increase in spending from 2006 to 2007 was due in large part to debt-service payments of $553,275 on the city’s annual-appropriation note with Royal Banks of Missouri.

The city’s 2008 budget also shows an increase in expenses from 2007.

For 2008, officials originally budgeted $12,676,109 in expenses among the city’s general fund, capital-improvement fund and park and stormwater fund.

Comparing the 2007 audited expenses to the 2008 budgeted expenses shows an increase in expenditures from 2007 to 2008 of $532,336.

Additionally, the Board of Aldermen has authorized the following unbudgeted expenses since the beginning of the year:

• A $377,600 expense in February for a new police communications system. City officials originally had planned to finance the system.

• A $525,000 debt prepayment in March on the city’s $2.08 million in debt on the annual-appropriation note.

• A $36,035 increase in salary spread out across 15 police officers. The pay increases — 10 of which were true pay raises and five of which were due to promotions — went into effect in May and June. However, aldermen did not vote to approve these pay raises until July.

Noting the recent pay increase for police officers, Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild said at the July 22 Prop 1 informational meeting that such unbudgeted expenses lead her to believe that the funds used from Prop 1 would be like a “blank check.”

“It’s not that I have anything against the city or that I don’t believe the city needs money for some expense or another,” Duchild said. “What I don’t like is writing a blank check to the city.

“… Alderman Roby pointed out a list of all the things that need to be fixed. If the citizens had a list of those things, if the city could have provided: ‘Here’s the plan, here’s what we need, this is what we’re looking for, this is how your tax money is going to be applied,’ then maybe that would have been better. But as of now, if you just say: ‘We need it because we need it’ without giving the citizens or the residents any indication of where or how that money is going to be applied, like Alderman Foote said, gas prices are up, food prices are up. That affects my family, too. So my costs are going up,” she said.

“Do I want to pay this tax? No. Not unless I know exactly where the city intends to spend it. And there’s just no back-up financial data to say: ‘Here, we need ‘X’ thousands for parks. We need ‘X’ thousands for administration. We need ‘X’ thousands for this.’ There’s nothing. And I just cannot hand my money over without any plan from the city. It’s like a contract — we’re going to give you this, what are you going to do with it? Just maintaining services for me is not good enough because that’s too much of a blank check. And that’s why I vote ‘no.'”