Settlement boosts Crestwood’s cash-flow account balance to $468,000

Aldermen accepted $148,186.13 settlement with Grant’s Trail developer

By BURKE WASSON

Thanks to a settlement recently reached with the developers of Grant’s Trail, Crestwood’s non-expendable trust fund soon will grow to more than $468,000.

Aldermen last week approved transferring the $148,186.13 settlement from the general fund to the city’s non-expendable trust fund. The decision was made by voice vote as a consent-agenda item with no alderman opposed.

Assistant City Administrator Justina Tate said the non-expendable trust, which had a $320,668 balance as of last week, should see those settlement funds added in the near future. That will bring the non-expendable trust fund’s total balance to $468,854.13.

The city was part of a class-action lawsuit filed in October 2003 by property owners, which included Crestwood, against the developers of Grant’s Trail. Aldermen unanimously approved the settlement agreement in a Nov. 14 closed session.

“Class members asserted, under the law, they owned property that was converted by the United States to a trail corridor under the ‘rails-to-trails’ program and that just compensation was due to the property owners as a result of this taking,” according to information about that closed session released by the city.

At the time the lawsuit was filed against the developer, the section of Grant’s Trail in Crestwood was owned by Trailnet Inc.

Trailnet then sold that land and the West Alton Trail in January 2005 to the Great Rivers Greenway District.

In October, Great Rivers Greenway opened a new extension in Crestwood near the parking lot of the Sappington House on South Sappington Road.

The new two-mile trail is part of an eight-mile paved stretch that runs through unincorporated St. Louis County, Crestwood, Kirkwood and Oakland.

Repeated attempts made from Friday to Monday to obtain a copy of the Grant’s Trail settlement from Crestwood officials were unsuccessful before the Call’s press time.

“I don’t know if there’s any light to be shed,” City Administrator Frank Myers said when asked for information on the settlement agreement. “I mean, it is what it is.”

Tate said Friday that after conferring with City Attorney Robert Golterman, the settlement agreement is a “privileged” document and the city could not release it.

But when contacted Monday, Golterman said copies of the Grant’s Trail settlement should be available in the City Clerk’s Office.

“Copies of the settlement document are available in the City Clerk’s office,” states the information released by the city regarding the Board of Aldermen’s Nov. 14 closed-session vote approving the Grant’s Trail settlement.

The city first received funds from the settlement on Dec. 28 and had planned at that time to place that money into the general fund.

Because the city canceled its previous $1.5 million line of credit with Southwest Bank when aldermen in October approved a $2.86 annual-appropriation note with Royal Banks of Missouri, Myers told aldermen last week that the non-expendable trust fund needs additional revenue.

“As we have cash variations, we no longer have that umbrella of a line of credit to protect us,” Myers said. “And in the last administrators report, we noted that we’re going to be having a major payment coming up related to the parks/stormwater fund. We’re looking at some cash-flow challenges. By placing this money in the non-expendable trust, it allows that trust, which is an interest-bearing account building interest, to serve as a shock absorber.

“When we do need cash-flow challenges, we can tap that per established ordinance by this board as long as that money is put back in the non-expendable trust account by the end of the year.”

In August, Myers had proposed eliminating the non-expendable trust fund and placing its funds, as well as funds from the capital-improvement fund and park and stormwater fund, into the city’s general fund.

With the approval of the annual-appropriation note, however, Myers said the non-expendable trust fund is needed.

Because the city would have to reimburse the non-expendable trust fund with any funds possibly taken out of it during the year, Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby questioned last week whether placing the settlement revenue in the non-expendable trust fund is the best option.

“My concern is I think with the non-expendable trust, though, the intention was that any money that we borrowed out of that, we would pay back at the end of the year,” Roby said. “And I’m just concerned if we put that money in and then sales taxes or whatever were to decline substantially and we did not have the money to replenish that account, there would be, obviously not a legal issue, but somewhat of an issue that we had promised to the citizens of Crestwood that this is the way this fund was going to be handled. And I would prefer if it wasn’t in the non-expendable trust simply for that reason. If we can’t promise we’re going to put it back, I would prefer that it didn’t go in.”

Mayor Roy Robinson told Roby that he is confident that the city can appropriate any funds back into the non-expendable trust fund if needed by the end of the year.

“I see no reason why we can’t promise that it will go back,” Robinson said. “It’s by ordinance when it says you cannot use it for anything else. If we borrow our own money, there’s no reason why it can’t be put back because we’re doing it for a short-term-fund revenue source. So I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about that.”

Board President Jerry Miguel of Ward 3 proposed during last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting that the transfer of settlement funds to the non-expendable trust fund should be delayed until the administration has presented an outline of each of the city’s accounts to aldermen.

“I don’t really have a good understanding of the non-expendable trust,” Miguel said. “I know that there are ordinances behind it. If it is essentially a cash-reserve fund, then perhaps we ought to call it a cash-reserve fund. It seems to me that we have, I believe, it’s about 14 different checking accounts in the city. Rather than make decisions as they come to this board, we need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

“We have a designated fund, we have the non-expendable trust, we have several other accounts, checking accounts. And I really do not have a good grasp on what each of them is intended to accomplish. Beyond that, we ask our auditors to give us a breakdown of what is all in the non-governmental funds. That information was recently made available to the administration,” he continued.

“And there are several accounts in there again, which I do not have a clear understanding as far as what they are or what the purpose are these accounts for. So I would be in favor of asking the administration to put together an outline of what the purpose of each of the accounts, each of the checking accounts and each of our funding accounts, what their purpose is and what goes in and out of each account, present that to Ways and Means Committee and from there present it to the board. So unless there is some immediate urgency to move these funds out of the general fund, I would prefer to take that approach rather than take a piecemeal approach as we, in my opinion, are doing here this evening,” Miguel said.