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Crestwood board to decide May 13 if fire tax goes before voters Aug. 5


Crestwood board to decide May 13 if fire tax goes before voters Aug. 5

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

A decision on whether to place a quarter-cent sales tax on the August ballot to offset some of the costs of providing fire protection is scheduled to be made later this month by the Crestwood Board of Alder-men.

The Board of Aldermen will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at City Hall, 1 Det-jen Drive.

If the board wishes to place the quarter-cent sales tax on the Aug. 5 ballot, a decision will have to be made May 13 because the deadline to place a proposition on the August ballot is 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 27.

The board's May 27 meeting begins two hours later — at 7 p.m.

City Administrator Don Greer is recommending the Board of Aldermen place the quarter-cent sales tax on the Aug. 5 ballot.

If the quarter-cent sales tax was placed on the ballot and approved by Crestwood voters, the city's sales tax rate would increase to 7.575 percent from the current rate of 7.325 percent. The quarter-cent sales tax would generate from $900,000 to $1 million annually for the city's Fire De-partment, which has an annual budget of about $2.5 million.

As first reported by the Call, Greer told the city's Ways and Means Committee April 19 that he would recommend the Board of Aldermen place the quarter-cent sales tax before voters. Greer's comments to the Ways and Means Committee about the sales tax came after he detailed the city's current financial condition, preliminary projections for fiscal 2004 and recommendations to eliminate a dozen city positions — primarily through attrition — plus other cost-cutting measures in an effort to reduce general-fund expenditures for the coming fiscal year.

Aldermen discussed Greer's recommendation to place the quarter-cent sales tax on the Aug. 5 ballot during an April 22 work session before the start of their regular meeting.

While Crestwood's capital improvements fund and parks and stormwater fund are in sound condition, the city's general fund has been termed "depleted'' by Mayor Jim Robertson. During the discussion about the proposed sales tax, the city administrator briefly noted his recommendation to eliminate a dozen city positions, plus other cost-cutting measures he has proposed.

Despite those efforts to reduce general-fund expenses, Greer said, "I'm still of the opinion that we're $750,000 short of where we need to be just for our cash flow.''

After reviewing each department's operating budget request, he found that there's little or no fat left to be trimmed and any further cuts to reduce expenses would en-tail a reduction in services.

"I'm of the opinion that in order to go further, we have to stop doing something,'' Greer told aldermen. "I've really tried to focus on the general fund because obviously that's where our problem is.''

Projections for the current fiscal year indicate the city will have a general fund operating balance of more than $200,000 on June 30. Despite projected increases in health insurance premiums, workers' compensation premiums and salary adjustments, Greer intends to present to the board a balanced budget proposal for fiscal 2004.

But, he continued, "My concern is that we're not going to be in a position without looking somewhere else to address the issue of building our cash reserves to the point where the general fund is able to stand on its own.''

After reviewing "a number of options,'' he is recommending the board place the quarter-cent sales tax before voters. 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.

Ward 2 Alderman Gary Vincent asked what would happen if the quarter-cent sales tax was placed on the ballot and rejected by voters.

Greer said, "The only thing we really have (left) to cut is police and fire. Those are general-fund dependent. I don't think I have any room left in any other operation.''

Vincent later asked why Greer was recommending a quarter-cent sales tax in-stead of an eighth-cent sales tax.

"The issue, in my mind, is one of benefiting the general fund,'' Greer said, noting an eighth-cent sales tax would allow the city to establish a capital fund for purchasing fire trucks, turnout gear and other equipment needs for the department.

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