South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Hard to sell tax-rate increase unless Crestwood balances budget, alderman says

City’s proposed 2016 budget projects deficit of $1 million
Justin Charboneau
Justin Charboneau

At least one member of the Crestwood Board of Aldermen believes it will be difficult to “sell” a tax-rate increase to residents unless the city has a balanced budget.

During a discussion last week about the possibility of placing a tax-rate increase before voters, Ward 2 Alderman Justin Charboneau said, “… I can tell you politically speaking I’ve been involved in many campaigns and it’s going to be really, really hard to sell a tax increase when we don’t have a balanced budget — but like it or not, it’s going to be extremely hard …”

The city’s proposed 2016 budget projects a deficit of more than $1 million. Interim City Administrator Frank Arnoldy recently told Mayor Gregg Roby and aldermen that because so many budget cuts have been made over the past 10 years, it will be difficult to maintain the level of services residents require unless a revenue solution is found.

The 2016 budget recommended by the city’s Ways and Means Committee proposed total revenues of $10,707,316 with projected expenditures of $11,905,411 — a deficit of $1,198,095.

During work sessions, aldermen tentatively agreed to reduce that deficit to $1,017,038. The 2016 budget now projects total revenues of $10,707,316 with anticipated expenditures of $11,724,354.

A public hearing on the proposed 2016 budget will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, at the Government Center, 1 Det-jen Drive.

On Nov. 10, aldermen discussed the possibility of placing a tax-rate increase before voters, but did not take any action.

Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach gave a presentation noting the city’s revenue declines in recent years and the city’s increasing capital needs. He also outlined raises city employees have received since 2008. Employees received no raises in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Employees re-ceived a $1,000 raise in 2009, a 1-percent raise in 2013, merit raises in 2014 and a 2-percent raise this year.

Citing the proposed redevelopment of the former Crestwood Plaza, Wallach projected that perhaps within five years, the city would begin receiving revenue from the mall.

“… What I would suggest to the board to consider is something in regards to — something as a 10-year measure to the citizens at a certain dollar amount, whether it’s 20 cents, 25 cents. But then at the five-year level drop that off in anticipation of some revenue coming from the mall project …,” he said.

The city’s current residential tax rate is 24.8 cents per $100 of assessed value; commercial, 39.9 cents; and personal property, 27.8 cents. Residents now pay about $8 a month to the city in taxes.

With a 20-cent tax-rate increase, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $76 a year in taxes to the city, or $6.33 per month. The same homeowner would pay an additional $95 per year in taxes to the city, or $7.92 per month, with a 25-cent tax-rate increase.

Citing a decline in sales-tax revenue, Charboneau said, “… Big picture, I think the city’s at a crossroads where the city needs to decide … do we need to start leaning more towards becoming a property-tax city? … Clearly we have (an) extremely low property tax because in the past the sales-tax revenue was completely relied on and wasn’t properly saved or planned with … Money wasn’t probably used as wisely it should have been. I think this is a valid discussion that has to happen.”

But he contended that it would be difficult to sell a tax-rate increase to voters unless the city has a balanced budget.

Of Wallach’s suggestion, Charboneau said, “I do like your idea of presenting it as a 10-year plan and rolling it back, if necessary, in the way you present it to the voters. I think that’s outside the box. I think that’s something that’s a good thought.”

The Ward 2 alderman also believes that any tax-rate increase should be targeted for specific expenditures.

“I think that if we want a tax increase — and when I say we, meaning the citizens of Crestwood want a tax increase — then it has to be targeted. I truly do. I think it has to be targeted towards the — whether that be streets, whether that be the Whitecliff Park — redoing the pool, redoing the complex. Everything that has to be done has to be targeted because if it’s just a general fund tax increase, we might as well save the money because of our budget constraints and not even put it on the ballot because it’s not going to pass. I can tell you that …”

Roby said he had reviewed historical in-formation regarding Crestwood’s tax rates and noted that the city’s tax rate was 54 cents per $100 of assessed value in 1958.

The city’s tax rate remained consistent through the mid-1980s until Crestwood Plaza began flourishing and aldermen re-duced the tax rate to 24 cents per $100.

“… From 1994 to 2002, our tax never did go below 25 cents,” he said. “The tax-rate ceiling in those years was a penny more, but I think that shows over the years that the city has evolved from a community that was highly dependent on the revenues from the mall and our retail sector. Now that that’s gone, we don’t have that. And I think that if you drive up and down Watson Road and you look at the vacancies and you look at those businesses that were good businesses that have turned over now to what we would call the secondary-type stores, maybe even third-tier stores. It’s just not there anymore.

“Our mall is never going to be what it once was. They’re not going to come back in and construct all those stores and big boxes. It’s just not going to happen, and any developer you talk to will tell you that …,” Roby added.

Citing declining revenues and increasing expenditures, particularly those for capital projects, the mayor later said, “… If we have to pose a tax to the residents of Crestwood — and I am a resident of Crestwood — I would gladly pay it if it would improve the quality of our infrastructure and make us a better community …”

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