Measure to extend 2004 budget discussed by Crestwood panel

By Mike Anthony

An appropriations ordinance that would extend Crestwood’s fiscal 2004 budget through Dec. 31 was discussed Saturday morning by members of the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee.

The appropriations ordinance, which requires approval from the Board of Aldermen, is needed for the city’s transition to a calendar fiscal year that will begin Jan. 1.

Aldermen voted earlier this year to a adopt an ordinance changing the city’s fiscal year to a calendar year, effective in 2005. The city’s previous fiscal year ran from July 1 to June 30. The change in the fiscal year is designed to allow the city to better control its expense position. As proposed, the appropriations ordinance would extend the fiscal 2004 budget from July 1 to Dec. 31 and authorize the continuation of current expense items, including employee salaries, debt service payments and capital expenditures.

Besides committee members — Acting Mayor Richard Breeding, Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood, Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox, City Administrator Don Greer and Director of Finance Diana Madrid — newly elected Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel and Matt Conley, administrative assistant to the city administrator, also were present. Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore attended part of the meeting.

“What you have before you is essentially an extrapolation of expenses for the period that covers July 1 through Dec. 31 of 2004,” Greer said of the appropriations ordinance. “With few exceptions — and we’ll go through those — that’s all it is. Remember the logic behind this is that in order to transition from the fiscal year of July 1 through June 30 to a calendar fiscal year, we have a six-month period that the board needs to authorize expenditures for.”

Among the exceptions are the proposed purchase of four police cars at $20,000 each for a total of $80,000, said Greer, who also serves as police chief.

“Absent the typical operating expenses, there are very few items that I believe need to be addressed this fall. One of those is police cars. We’ve not bought them for three years,” he said, noting that police car purchases planned in the past were deferred to save money. “I think we’re going to need to buy some this year.”

Greer emphasized that the ordinance is not a budget.

“… I would remind the committee that this will not balance. This is not a budget. This is an appropriations ordinance. You’re considering approving expenditures for the period of July 1st through Dec. 31st of 2004,” he said. “Revenues are provided for you as an estimate, as a guide to help walk you through where — to what effect we think these next six months are going to have on us.”

As projected in the appropriations ordinance, the general fund balance on June 30 would be a negative $1,097,188 and a negative $2,042,863 on Dec. 31.

All other funds are projected to have positive balances on June 30 and Dec. 31. The city’s newly established non-expendable trust fund would have a balance of $90,132 on both June 30 and Dec. 31. The capital improvement fund would have a balance of $842,773 on June 30 and $286,578 on Dec. 31. The park and stormwater fund would have a balance of $1,551,200 on June 30 and $1,660,105 on Dec. 31.

“… This is the only time we’ve ever done this. This is the only time we’re ever going to do it, but this is not a budget. That’s the thing,” Greer said, noting that the proposed ordinance will include only expenditures. “We put the revenues in there so that you could be reminded that this is our worst time of the year. We are concerned that we are probably not going to be able to get the line of credit back to zero by June 30. And if that’s the case, we have talked to the bank. It can be extended to September …”

The city last fall revised its line of credit with Southwest Bank to $1.185 million. Greer said aldermen soon could expect to consider an ordinance to extend the payment deadline for the line of credit and authorize city officials to seek a line of credit for fiscal 2005.

On several occasions during the meeting, Miguel asked about the city’s street improvement program.

Greer said at one point, “The street program has been re-evaluated and re-prioritized. So I’m not going to say that street work is not going to be done. I’m saying that something else is going to be done. We have focused on getting what I think is a bigger bang for our buck. We’re doing more contracted slab replacements. We’re doing more work that we receive a greater benefit from rather than continuing to grossly overspend on street reconstruction …”

Miguel later noted than when he was campaigning, many of the residents he spoke to expressed concerns not only about the city’s finances, but the condition of city streets.

“… The people on Ewers (Drive) are ready to rebel,” he said. “So I think to postpone it or to cut it back I think is problematic and to not have visibility on what’s going to be happening, I find that difficult to — I feel uncomfortable with that.”

Noting that work has been delayed on other streets that were determined to be a higher priority, particularly Fieldcrest and Fournier drives, Greer said, “… Hey, what the hell, you want to do it, it will break the city. The implication is that we have a choice here. We don’t have any money. You can’t reconstruct a street. We spent millions of dollars reconstructing streets when it was absolutely insane to do so and the thought of spending a half a million dollars on up on one street right now means that we don’t do anything else.

“I mean if that’s the board’s preference, that’s the plan we’ll put together. What I’m trying to get the board in the capital improvements, the five-year plan, and, in fact, we’ll do it longer than five years, it’s just that the charter requires to publish it for five years, is a plan that maximizes what’s available,” the city administrator continued. “You know, because a resident thinks their street needs to be reconstructed doesn’t necessarily means it needs to be reconstructed …”

After Greer later noted that work on Fieldcrest and Fournier has been pushed back twice, Miguel said of Ewers Drive, “What can be done there?”

Greer replied, “I count on the director of public works to tell me that. That’s why we have a director of public works (Jim Eckrich, who began his duties last fall) …”

Of the city’s previous street improvement program, Greer said, “… We had a plan that we could not afford under any set of circumstances — under any set of circumstances, whether or not the board adopted some debt service or not. It was out of control and it was much more expensive than it should have been to do the same results.”

Miguel said residents on Ewers presented a petition regarding the condition of their street.

Greer said, “I was unaware of it … I don’t know what, you know, I can’t print money and I don’t think you want me to take it out of another fund. We have a limited amount of money that’s available. If we do a major reconstruction, that’s all we’re going to do. So, if the board is — that’s up to the board. If the board wants to do that, that’s fine. I don’t think that’s best use of the money that we have available because part of what we suffered through the past several years was a lack of the type of maintenance that does … benefit more for a very long period of time.”

Miguel later said, “… I feel uncomfortable moving (forward) because we are approaching the point where we are going to have to make decisions on the police building and I feel uncomfortable having to make major decisions on the police building not knowing where our street program (is). And it sounds (like) what I’ve heard today is we’re not going to have visibility on that street program until the fall …”

Greer said, “I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think you’re comparing apples and apples there. The debt service is fixed … That debt service (for the new police building) is fixed. That is identifiable. That can’t be renegotiated. It can’t be changed. That’s the debt service. So what you have is what’s left. So the issues that were presented in the March work sessions and we’ve been discussing for a period of time now gives the board about half a million dollars to spend on street construction or all the street program in terms of bricks and mortar, concrete and asphalt, whatever, in a given year. I don’t see the parallel. How that’s spent is always subject to change as the priorities that are established by the board …”