Voters can’t afford to write blank check to Crestwood

City officials need to restore transparency in government

By MIKE ANTHONY

Since 2005, Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson and other city officials have proposed a number of tax-rate increases. Five of them have made it to the ballot, including Proposition 1 that will be considered next week by voters.

In November 2005, Crestwood voters considered three measures, approving two and rejecting one. Voters approved increases in the city’s merchant-license fee and the city’s tax on utility gross receipts for commercial customers, but rejected an increase in the tax on utility gross receipts for residential customers.

This newspaper conditionally endorsed all three proposals, noting at the time that “approval of the three propositions can be compared to using a garden hose to fight a forest fire.”

In April 2006, Crestwood voters approved Proposition S, a 20-cent tax-rate increase designed to retire $3.5 million in city-incurred debt over a seven-year period. Due to reassessment in 2007, aldermen subsequently rolled back the Proposition S rate to 16.9 cents and the debt now will be retired in 2012.

Once again, this newspaper conditionally endorsed the measure, but noted that “with the city’s sales-tax revenue declining, we can’t help but believe that some additional type of tax-rate increase will be required in the not-so-distant future to help the city meet cost-of-living increases and operational expenses. We don’t think such a prospect will be well received by the public.”

That brings us to Proposition 1, which voters will consider Tuesday.

City officials are asking voters to step up yet again by approving a six-year, 35-cent tax-rate increase that would nearly double the city’s current tax rate of 37.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Once again, we initially were inclined to conditionally support Proposition 1 despite reservations that, as we wrote in May, “just as we said about Proposition S, we don’t believe the proposed 35-cent tax-rate increase comes close to solving the city’s fiscal woes.”

But we’ve come to the conclusion we cannot endorse Proposition 1. For starters, we’re extremely concerned about the so-called town-hall meetings about Proposition 1 that were advertised in the city’s newsletter. In a news story published July 17, the Call’s Burke Wasson wrote: “The city has scheduled four town-hall meetings for each of the city’s wards.”

So imagine Mr. Wasson’s surprise when he learned at the July 22 meeting that members of Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 — not city officials — were making the so-called informational presentation at that “town-hall” session. As committee member Terry Freeman said at the July 22 meeting, while residents can vote how they wish, those present “will hear a bias” from his group.

Interestingly enough, the committee’s organization statement was filed with the county election board on July 15. State law requires such committees to be formed no later than 30 days before the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures.

We don’t believe public resources — the city’s newsletter and reverse 911 calls in-forming residents of the meetings — should be used to promote the activities of any advocacy group — ever.

We won’t go into the irony of how city officials can ask residents to approve a tax-rate increase while voting behind closed doors to award pay increases — no matter how justified — to police officers.

Citing those police pay increases, Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild said at the July 22 Prop 1 informational meeting that such unbudgeted expenses lead her to believe that the funds used from Prop 1 would be like a “blank check.”

“It’s not that I have anything against the city or that I don’t believe the city needs money for some expense or another,” she said. “What I don’t like is writing a blank check to the city …”

Perhaps Mayor Robinson said it best in March 2005 — just before being elected to his first term as mayor — when asked about a bond issue the Board of Aldermen had placed on the April 2005 ballot:

” … But I think that the monies that they’ve requested for this bond issue was like a blank check and I don’t trust any politician, including myself, with your money and a blank check,” he said.

We have yet to see a long-term plan to solve the city’s financial woes. City officials contend Proposition 1 will “bridge a revenue gap that is anticipated to occur be-tween 2009 and when the (Crestwood Court) mall redevelopment is complete.”

That’s not a long-term plan because we’re sorry to say that the city’s mall will never be the economic engine that it once was. Nor are we aware of a long-term plan outlining exactly — dollar for dollar — how Prop 1 revenue would be spent. Coupled with the lack of transparency in Crestwood government today, we don’t see how residents can approve an annual blank check of roughly $1.1 million for city officials to spend any way they see fit for the next six years.

Therefore, we regret to say that we cannot even conditionally support Proposition 1 and urge Crestwood officials to take immediate steps to restore the transparency that is sorely lacking in city government.

85th District Missouri House

Democrats Vicki Lorenz Englund and Ron Wagganer are vying in Tuesday’s primary for the opportunity to face Republican Cloria Brown of Lemay in the November election for the 85th District Missouri House seat. Both are outstanding candidates and residents of the 85th District would be well-served by either.

However, we believe Mr. Wagganer’s views are much more in tune with those of district residents and endorse him.