Crestwood officials must explain how funds from a potential tax-rate increase would be used to gain residents’ support, according to Mayor Jeff Schlink.
“I think that if you go to the residents and say we’ve been cutting here, we’ve been cutting there, we can’t cut anymore, we need a tax increase, I don’t think that’s a good enough story for somebody to vote yes on it,” Schlink told the Board of Aldermen earlier this month. “I think that if it’s a good enough story for somebody to vote yes on it, there has to be a reason as to what we’re going to do with that money …”
Bill Schelinski, who has filed for the Ward 2 seat on the Board of Aldermen in April’s election, told the board “any penny” the board asks for in a property-tax increase comes out of a budget he runs out of his household “just like you guys are trying to do in your households and for the city.”
“I understand the position you guys are in, but I have to feed my kids …,” Schelinski said. “I’d be behind you if you can sell me on it, but if you can’t, I’d have to fight you tooth and nail. It’s a matter of feeding my kids.”
However, Crestwood firefighter Steve Toelke addressed the board on behalf of Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters in support of a tax-rate increase.
Resident Jerome Friedeck also told the board he is proud of Crestwood and is “willing to pay more taxes.”
Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said the money would go toward offsetting “increasing deficits in the general fund.”
“It’s pretty straightforward as far as what needs to be looked at in my opinion,” Miguel said, though he noted specifics would be needed as to how the money would be used to offset “increasing deficits.”
Ward 1 Alderman Dan Tennessen’s requested the tax-rate in-crease discussion because “the topic has come up several times over the last six months.”
“I think that the residents of Crestwood need to be informed about our options,” Tennessen said. “I’m not sure we need a tax increase to deliver quality services, and I have been impressed with how well the city has operated through the 20-percent decline in revenue that we have experienced since 2008. However, I know that cutting the first 10 percent of a budget can be easier and less impactful on performance than cutting 20 percent ”
Crestwood’s sales-tax revenue has decreased by roughly 25 percent from 2005 to 2012, according to information presented to the board. Citywide revenue has decreased roughly 21 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Tennessen said he believes the city needs a contingency plan, which Ward 2 Alderman Bob Deutschmann suggested at a previous board meeting.
“As we go into 2013, I believe we need a solid contingency plan, which is not about cutting $30,000 here or there ,” he said. “Such a plan might include financial trigger points for taking action. It might include a residential tax increase, or it might include some other strategic change. I believe it is my job as an elected official to make sure that we have considered alternatives to cutting services …”
Schlink said reviewing the city’s revenues is something the newly appointed city administrator, Mark Sime, should be able to “take a much closer look at.”
“I think as a city we need to look at a variety of things. One’s going to be revenue, but it’s not just revenue for the sake of revenue,” Schlink said. “We also need to have a three- and five-year plan that goes along with that revenue. We hear today that we make cuts. We hear today that we don’t have enough money. But we really don’t ever talk about tomorrow.”
Part of studying a tax-rate increase would include having Sime work with department heads in discussing five-year plans, according to Schlink.
Former Ward 3 Alderman Greg Roby told the board a tax-rate increase was placed before voters when he served on the board.
The proposed six-year, 35-cent tax-rate increase was defeated by voters in August 2008.
“At that time, Lindbergh hadn’t asked for a (65)-cent tax in-crease. Special School District hadn’t gotten an increase and the library district hadn’t gotten a tax increase,” Roby said. “So good luck getting anybody in Crestwood today to accept another tax increase with what they’re currently paying.”
Noting the city officials’ attempt to obtain voter approval of a tax-rate increase in 2008, Tennessen said since that time Crestwood has had “significant revenue declines.”
“The situation we’re in now I think is more dire than in 2008,” Tennessen said.
Tennessen said he would like a five-year plan and a gap analysis brought to the board by March 1 for the current board to consider placing an increase on the August ballot.
Though Schlink said he is not for or against a tax-rate increase, he does not know if “rushing something through to have it done by March 1 is the most thorough review of something that’s this large that impacts this many people.”
Tennessen said he would be concerned if the board let the issue lapse into a new board because it would “probably (be) looking beyond May, which would put us into 2015.”