Crestwood board puts fire sales tax on ballot
By MIKE ANTHONY
A quarter-cent sales tax designed to offset some of the costs of providing fire protection has been placed on the Aug. 5 ballot by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen.
The Board of Aldermen voted 7-1 last week to adopt an ordinance placing the quarter-cent fire sales tax on the ballot. Ward 4 Alderman Tom Fagan cast the dissenting vote.
If the quarter-cent sales tax is approved by voters, the city's sales tax rate will increase to 7.575 percent from the(Continued from Page 1A)
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 Department, which has an annual budget of about $2.5 million. That amount includes a $300,000 payment to the Affton Fire Protection District for an area the city annexed in 1996.
Though Fagan voted against the ordinance placing the fire sales tax on the ballot, he said he believed placing the proposal before voters was appropriate.
However, he advocated placing the fire sales tax on the ballot with a 10- or 15-year sunset provision.
Before the ordinance placing the fire sales tax was adopted, Fagan offered an amendment that would have placed a 15-year sunset on the tax. The proposed amendment, however, was defeated by a 5-3 vote with Fagan, Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore and Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood voting in favor of the proposed amendment.
Aldermen discussed the fire sales tax at length before voting to place the proposal before voters.
In response to a question from LaBore about the proposal, City Administrator Don Greer said, "... I've been looking at this as an opportunity to recapture some of the costs for providing fire services long term and the direct benefit is to the general fund. My intention is capture money in order to be able to build a fund balance, but also to be able to establish a capital replacement fund within the general fund so that we can replace vehicles and equipment and things like that that don't fall under some of the capital needs or some of the park needs ...''
In a memorandum to the board, Greer noted that with voter approval of the fire sales tax, Crestwood's sales tax rate would be identical to such cities as Brentwood, Maplewood, Olivette, Richmond Heights and Rock Hill. The memo also noted that the city's property tax rate of 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation is considerably less than neighboring municipalities.
Fagan said, "Thank you, Mr. Greer, for the memo. The points about or the calculations and comparisons with some of our neighboring cities and point-of-sale cities are truly telling I think when you look at how much we pay in property tax compared to somebody in Sunset Hills.''
Noting that people in Sunset Hills could be served by either the Fenton Fire Protection District or the Mehlville Fire Protection District, Fagan said, "... If I'm reading this correctly, if you have a $175,000 home in Crestwood (then) you pay $83.13 to the city of Crestwood in property tax each year. Is that correct?''
Greer said, "Correct.''
Fagan continued, "OK. And if you live in Sunset Hills, you can pay up to $325.85 per year for property tax? Is that correct?''
Greer said, "That would be combining the municipal (tax rate) and the fire district (tax rate), yes.''
Fagan said, "So you're talking about what, four times, almost four times what someone in our neighboring cities would pay ... So as you can see, I think Crestwood residents are certainly paying a very low rate for our property tax and though I'm never a proponent of raising taxes, I think the way we're going about it is the proper way in terms of putting this to a vote of the people.''
Noting that he always has been a proponent of sunset provisions, Fagan asked Greer about whether it would be appropriate to include a 10-year or 15-year sunset provision with the proposed fire sales tax.
Greer said, "Very clearly my goal is to assist the general fund. The general fund currently pays that $2.2 million or $2.5 million if you include the payment to Affton and that's not going to go away. The only way that expense is going to go away is if this group of people decides they no longer want to provide municipal fire (service). And I think if you decided at some future point you just didn't want to do that, you yourselves could repeal that (tax) ...''
Fagan said, "... If we are providing the services and if you look at the numbers obviously the big cost to these other cities are the fire districts. Nothing against the fire districts or how they operate, but the taxes are considerably more than what we charge our residents for the services they receive in terms of fire. But having said that, if we're not providing the proper services, whether it be fire or streets or police, people can go to the polls and vote and say no, we don't think you're entitled to the continuation of this tax. And I think that is a persuasive way or a compelling reason for people to vote for this tax ...
"It just seems to me across the board, maybe not on every tax, but it seems like you never get a chance to vote on what your taxes are and it seems compelling to me that one, we do need this. I don't disagree with you. I mean if you look at the numbers, I think it will be beneficial to our city. But I also think that it's something that we need to make the case to the voters every 10 years or 15 years. We have an ed-ucated electorate. If we tell them we need the tax extended and we've proven that we can manage the money, I think it's going to pass,'' Fagan said.
Greer said, "Essentially that's a philosophical position and I would find it hard to disagree with the philosophical position.''
Ward 2 Alderman Gary Vincent said, "I'm not in favor of a sunset provision for this. And one of the reasons why you can do it I think with the capital improvements fund or tax is because a lot of that work is contracted out and if we didn't have that money we just wouldn't contract that work out and we could cut that out of our budget without a significant impact on what we do every day other than the street work. But I think that once you get that million-plus (dollars) or whatever it's going to be in 10 or 15 years into the general budget and for some reason that was taken out, I think that would have a drastic impact on the city and ultimately if we have to get a fire protection district I think the evidence before us is that it's going to end up costing the residents a lot more money. So I think that when you're comparing what we did with the capital im-provements tax and what the purpose of this tax would be, I think it's apples and oranges and I would not be in favor of a sunset provision on this particular tax.''