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Crestwood may seek approval of fire tax


Crestwood may seek approval of fire tax

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Crestwood voters may be asked to ap-prove a quarter-cent sales tax that would generate from $900,000 to $1 million annually for the city's Fire Department.

During a meeting of the city's Ways and Means Committee Saturday morning, City Administrator Don Greer said he is recommending the Board of Aldermen consider placing the quarter-cent sales tax be-fore voters, possibly in August.

Greer's comments about the sales tax came after he detailed the city's current financial condition, preliminary projections for fiscal 2004 and a recommendation to eliminate a dozen city positions — primarily through attrition — in an effort to reduce expenditures for the coming fiscal year.

Since the Ways and Means Committee began meeting in January, Greer has stressed the need to build a cash reserve of $1.5 million to $2 million in the city's general fund, which has been called "depleted'' by Mayor Jim Robertson.

That amount of reserve is needed to meet the city's cash-flow needs, both Greer and Robertson have said.

In an April 10 memorandum to Robert-son and the board, Greer wrote, "... In our discussions, you will find that I have made significant reductions in our expense position. I have referred to these reductions as 'efficiencies' aimed at reducing our dependence on labor, yet not adversely impacting the quality of services we provide. And yet, with those reductions in place, I do not feel that we are in a position to build the type of fund balance necessary in the general fund within an appropriate time frame.''

Regarding placing a sales tax on the ballot to help offset the cost of providing fire services, Greer told the Ways and Means Committee, "This is something I think we need to look at for a couple reasons — largely based on my observations after having made these significant adjustments that I do not believe there's really anything left to cut that's not what I call 'nickel and diming.' To cut anything more means we have to stop doing something and I don't believe we're in the position that we want to stop doing something.

"Our expenses are going to continue to increase,'' he said, citing salary increases, plus projected increases in health insurance and workers' compensation premiums.

"There's nothing to cut next year unless we decide to stop doing something ... There's a revenue source out there that I think we need to take a look at — I believe very strongly take a look at — and that's the fire tax,'' Greer said.

In an April 10 memo to Greer, Assistant City Administrator Matt Conley wrote that eight of the 19 municipalities in St. Louis County that are eligible to collect the tax have sought and received voter approval to do so. Among those municipalities collecting the quarter-cent sales tax, which is not subject to any redistribution or sharing provisions, are Brentwood, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, Rock Hill and Olivette.

If the quarter-cent sales tax was placed on the ballot and approved by Crestwood voters, the city's sales tax would increase to 7.575 percent from the current rate of 7.325 percent.

Conley also wrote, "... It seems (the) trend toward funding municipal fire de-partments in St. Louis County is clearly headed in the direction of adopting the fire sales tax. Cities which provide this service and already have some type of dedicated funding mechanism to offset some portion of the reliance (on) general revenue funding, such as a dedicated pension property tax, have even overwhelmingly embraced this additional source of revenue.''

In his memorandum to Robertson and the Board of Aldermen, Greer wrote, "Ad-ding the quarter-cent fire sales tax to our existing rate of 7.325 percent puts us in line with Brentwood, Maplewood, Oli-vette, Richmond Heights and Rock Hill, all 'A' cities.

"Our current fire services budget is projected to be near $2.5 million this year as well as next, even with the proposed re-ductions. There is approximately $350,000 set aside in the capital improvements budget for replacement of a fire pumper, and with the adjustments — efficiencies — I am recommending in the FY '04 bud-get and beyond, we will need to replace our second pumper sooner than originally anticipated.

"Providing municipal fire services is a luxury, albeit one we choose to maintain. It is my opinion that this form of revenue is one worthy of serious consideration. We have until mid-May should you choose to place this issue before the voters on the August election ballot,'' the city administrator concluded.

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