Eastman presents list of cuts; recommends none be made

Voter-approved extension of Prop S tax would bring in $522,691 annually for city

By Kari Williams

Crestwood City Administrator Petree Eastman last week provided the city’s Ways and Means Committee with potential budget cuts totaling $269,000, but said the reductions are not recommended.

“We did present you with some suggestions in terms of numbers, but we don’t believe in them,” Eastman told the committee Feb. 21. “In fact, we are very adamant that we do not want this to take place. We don’t think it’s good for the city of Crestwood.”

Eastman also presented a second option to the committee — obtaining additional revenue. Aldermen could reconsider the early sunset of the Proposition S tax-rate increase approved in 2006 and ask voters to extend the Prop S tax, she said.

Prop S was a 20-cent, tax-rate increase designed to eliminate $2 million in debt and a $1.5 million line of credit, both from Southwest Bank. The board voted in 2010 to sunset the Prop S tax in 2011 because of early retirement of the associated debt, instead of 2012 as allowed by the measure’s approved ballot language.

Eastman said continuing Prop S for another year would balance the 2012 budget.

“… That would bring in about $225,(000) at the end of this year, with more into 2013,” she said.

In a redacted memo to the Ways and Means Committee that was originally marked confidential, Eastman wrote that extending Prop S would be a “no-tax-increase tax-increase,” which would require “the city putting the measure on the Aug. 7, 2012, ballot.”

If placed on the ballot and approved, the tax-rate extension would generate $522,691 annually for the city, she wrote. The deadline to place a proposition on the August ballot is May 29.

Ward 4 Alderman Deborah Beezley, who attended the Ways and Means Committee meeting but does not serve on the panel, said Prop S needs to continue for another year and the city needs a tax-rate increase of 20 to 30 cents.

“What does that equate out to? Fifteen to 20 bucks a month. Does that mean we don’t eat out? Maybe it does. One time,” she said. “Or we take our lunch to work two to three times, if we wish to save our community, and I have to say shame on us and shame on me as an alderman for not pushing and not recommending a tax-increase sooner.”

But resident Tom Ford said he has seen tax-rate increases wasted on “frivolous things that we simply don’t need.”

“All I’m saying is, if you’d like a tax increase, Ms. Eastman, show me the money. Show me what you’re going to do with it,” he said.

Mayor Jeff Schlink said when he served as an alderman, residents approached him about a tax-rate increase.

“And my answer always back is, ‘Where would we spend the money?’ and (they) usually don’t have an answer,” he said. “So it seems like we have a problem, but the problem is where we are right now. No one has decided what, if anything, we would do …”

Eastman said she and her staff do not recommend cuts for fiscal 2012 because surplus funds came in from 2011. Their focus is 2013. For 2012, a roughly $160,000 deficit is projected, but she said that keeps the unreserved designated fund balance constant at $571,033 from 2012 through 2016.

However, Eastman said city staff “feel very strongly” that service will be affected if the presented — not suggested — cuts, totaling $269,000, are made.

The not-suggested cuts include: eliminating the private gym membership for firefighters ($6,000); reducing gap overtime by 89 percent or about $44,500 for police; reducing a street maintenance supervisor position to maintenance worker ($25,000); eliminate a holiday party for volunteers and newsletter ($14,500), among other items.

Fire Chief Karl Kestler said his department is operating at 1974 staffing levels and has not expanded since 1975.

He also said most of the time the fire department is operating at minimum staffing. Three people in his department are eligible to retire, but Kestler said he does not know if they will. If they retire, Eastman said the positions would need to be filled, possibly with a lower salary.

Police Chief Mike Paillou said his department already has reduced its forces by 25 percent and is at minimum staffing to control overtime. Eighty percent of overtime, according to Paillou, fills shifts and covers sick employees. The department currently has two vacant positions and one officer out on extended injury.

Paillou said the department cannot support any more personnel reductions, and if overtime is cut, the department will drop below minimum staffing.

Director of Public Services Jim Eckrich said parks and recreation and public works have reduced staff by 48 percent staff over the last 11 years. He also said street and park maintenance and other programs have suffered due to reductions.

The playground at Rayburn Park, according to Eckrich, is embarrassing, and tennis courts have been taken down at Crestwood Park.

“The number of deficiencies in our parks system is related to the reduction in park maintenance staff,” he said.

Eckrich said his department is already struggling “to keep (its) head above water.”

For administration, Eastman said the “knee-jerk reaction” is the department can always be cut, but she cautioned the committee not to jump to that conclusion.

“We are stretched thin, and we have tried to devise a manner in which we’re starting to duplicate and try(ing) to prepare administrative staff in the event someone is out sick or on vacation,” she said.

City staff also presented the committee with a list of items they want to keep off the possible-cuts list. Such items include: security, police detectives, employee training, travel and expenses, employee memberships and cell phones, among other items.

“We are at a point where it’s very hard to find the kind of monies that we’re talking about,” Eastman said, “not even including salary increases or increase in medical costs or increases in anything else for that matter.”

Schlink said the discussion, including the presentations from Paillou, Kestler and Eckrich, help committee members get a frame of mind — not just a dollar amount — to address the city’s budget issues.

“With the curve ball that’s been thrown to us, certainly we’re looking to still try to hit that curve ball,” Schlink said, referring to the announced closing of Sears at Crestwood Court. “… This way we have more information. It just helps us better understand which pitch count we’re going to give that curve ball.”

At some point, Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild said the Ways and Means Committee needs to make a recommendation to the board and talk about the $160,378 deficit projected for 2012.

“I think this board needs to discuss that (deficit) and (decide) do we make recommendations to balance the budget based on that forecast for this year. I think that’s where we start,” Duchild said.