Town-hall meetings set to kick off in Crestwood

First meeting scheduled at 7 p.m. on Jan. 29

By BURKE WASSON

The first in a series of Crestwood town-hall meetings designed to explain city costs and solicit input from residents on the level of those services will take place next week.

The administration and Fire Department each will present a cost analysis and history of services to residents at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

The Police Department will make a presentation during the second town-hall meeting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Community Center at Whitecliff Park while the Public Services Department will share the costs and levels of its services at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at the Government Center.

At each meeting, respective department heads will provide a complete picture of the city’s services from former levels and into the future.

Officials also will include a comparison of how certain city services and their costs compare with other municipalities during the town-hall meetings.

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously in November to schedule town-hall meetings in January, February and March to present status reports about the city’s services and solicit input from residents regarding possible improvements.

The decision to schedule the meetings came on the heels of Mayor Roy Robinson’s response to a Nov. 1 letter from Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Di-rectors Chairman Aaron Hilmer, who proposed contracting Crestwood’s fire and ambulance services through Mehlville at “a savings to the city of Crestwood of over $200,000 every year.”

Instead of considering the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s proposal, Crestwood officials decided they first would rather hear from residents about the city’s current services and the funding required to maintain those.

As for the city’s overall financial picture, aldermen were set this week to hear from the auditing firm of Schmersahl Treloar & Co. regarding the city’s exact general-fund balance at the end of 2007.

That balance has been the source of recent deliberation from city officials as it contains more cash than allowed through the provisions of the city’s refinanced debt of $2.87 million with Royal Banks of Missouri.

Aldermen will decide in the coming months whether to use that general-fund excess to prepay debt on that note or convert the note from tax exempt to a more costly taxable status to retain those cash balances. Financial adviser Carl Ramey of Stifel Nicolaus & Co. has advised that the board has until April 1 to make that decision.

The city’s $2.87 million note approved in October 2006 with Royal Banks of Missouri to refinance and pay off remaining debt through a 20-cent tax-rate increase authorized in April 2006 by voters contains an Internal Revenue Service provision that limits the city’s general-fund balance to no more than 5 percent of the previous year’s expenses.

City Administrator Frank Myers originally reported that the city’s 2007 general-fund balance was $773,270 above the 5-percent limit.

In December, aldermen cut that excess to just shy of $400,000 through transfers into other city funds.

Myers has said that reducing the general fund’s cash balance to no more than 5 percent of this year’s expenses in that fund to keep the note tax exempt would result in the general fund’s cash balance being negative by the end of 2008.

At meetings last month and this month, aldermen have questioned why preliminarily audited financial projections for 2007 showed a discrepancy in the administration’s cash-flow analysis.

One such difference was in the non-expendable trust, which the administration estimated in December was at a level of $657,000 and the auditing firm showed with a balance of $488,922.

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting that he would like to see Myers and the administration display a reconciliation of some of those numbers, including audited 2008 cash-flow projections that estimate the city will lose $500,000.

“Receipts and disbursements were projected based on the 2008 proposed budget resulting in the monthly cash balances through the end of 2008,” Miguel said. “Now that would say to me that the auditors used the 2008 budget to do their projections.

“I don’t know how they sliced it. But they used the 2008 budget … How can there be a negative cash outflow if they use the proposed budget? … I would expect that our staff should be able to do a reconciliation between budget and projections,” the Ward 3 alderman added.

After some discussion, Myers replied that instead of having the administration explain that difference in financial projections, he rather would allow Schmersahl Treloar & Co. to explain that process at the Board of Aldermen’s meeting Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

“We will certainly work towards the reconciliation,” Myers said. “But what I would prefer if it’s acceptable to aldermen on the board … our auditors are going to be at our next board meeting laying out the … final numbers or close-to-final numbers for 2007 and closing the books at the next meeting to present that.

“In addition, I have talked to Mark Graves (of Schmersahl Treloar & Co.) about being prepared to explain the discrepancy between the budget and the audited … the numbers that they have prepared that’s part of their cash-flow analysis,” he said. “So the board will have from our auditors that explanation. And my hope is that once you have that explanation, we can move on.

“Because the staff, which are not experts at cash-flow projections … They don’t do that as part of their job every moment of every day …

“The auditors are much more experienced at doing that. And they have a discrepancy, which they will be prepared to explain. And I think it would be valuable for them to do that at the next meeting,” the city administrator said.

“But the board directed you to do that at the last meeting,” Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder said. “In December.”

“And I met with Mr. Graves,” Myers said. “And Mr. Ramey and I talked about having Mr. Graves here at this meeting. And the thought was since he’s got to be here at the next meeting anyway, let’s just do it at that meeting. But we’re not ignoring the board.

“It’s just rather than have the auditors sit through two meetings, let’s just have them sit through one and get you the information you requested.”