Fagan-Robinson debate packs City Hall chamber
March 30, 2005 - The two Crestwood mayoral candidates last week discussed how they would resolve the city's fiscal woes and attract new business during a forum sponsored by the Gravois Township Republicans.
Mayor Tom Fagan and former Alderman Roy Robinson are seek-ing election Tuesday, April 5, to the mayoral post, which carries a three-year term. A standing-room-only crowd packed the Al-dermanic Chamber at City Hall for the March 23 forum.
Fagan is seeking re-election after winning election in August to fill the remaining six months of the term of former Mayor Jim Robertson, who resigned in January 2004. Before serving as mayor, Fagan was a Ward 4 alderman first elected in 1993.
Robinson, who served as a Crestwood alderman from 1988 to 1992, unsuccessfully ran in the August mayoral election.
The two candidates also discussed their stances on the city's gen-eral obligation bond issue, Proposition 1, that voters will consider next week and the use of such economic development tools as tax-increment financing.
The candidates were asked how much time they are willing to devote to serving as mayor.
Robinson said, "I am retired as effective the first of May 2004. I have all the time in the world to devote to this — working as your mayor. I will be out and about talking to the businesses, talking to the people who can bring us business into this city. I will be here to watch over all the spending, all the things that go on that sometimes we wonder about. I will be here. They will know in this city that I'm here to watch out for our and your money. So I've got all the time that's necessary to spend at this job ...''
Fagan said, "... Yes, I am busy, but you know what? It's a matter of ability and capability and I have the capability to lead. Secondly, I have office hours every Friday to meet with people. In addition, I have the time to stay for meetings unlike my opponent, who either does not show up or refuses to stay for the entire meeting. In addition, I have met with the appropriate businesses. We've had work sessions on Friday mornings, meetings with them. I've spent an enormous amount of time with Westfield. Obviously, the Crestwood shopping center is our biggest sales-tax generating revenue entity in the city of Crestwood. It's imperative that we have a good working relationship with Westfield. I've had numerous conversations with them. I'm the more pro-growth candidate and even if I'm not here full time, that's not the purpose of the mayor. If you look at the (City) Charter, I think my opponent wants to try to run every department and he says that he's going to make personnel decisions about the Police Department. Frankly under the charter, ladies and gentlemen, he can't do it. It's the city administrator's job as the person in charge of the department heads to make those decisions.
"Furthermore, my opponent has endlessly attacked our city administrator, patently unfairly may I add, and he doesn't have the votes to terminate him. If you look at the charter as well, it takes five votes. Frankly, I think our city administrator has done a fantastic job. He's the one who found the financial anomalies. He is the one who is not being paid, even though everybody's upset about the car allowance or a lot of people are, he's not being paid his full city administrator's salary. He saves the city $135,000 a year by holding two positions. My opponent has made the statement in his piece of literature he delivered last week, and I use that word loosely, that he would be able to promote somebody to police chief and not increase the salary. I don't think it can be done ...,'' Fagan added.
Noting that tax-increment financing is an option to attract new business, the candidates were asked how they propose to attract new businesses to the city.
Fagan said, "First of all, I think a lot is misunderstood about TIF and it is something that a lot of people have strong opinions on, but frankly what I tell people is you may not like the TIF — tax-increment financing — statute, but unfortunately our neighbors are clobbering us with it. My opponent last time was opposed to it. I'm here to tell you that if we don't use TIF, we are not playing on a level playing field with our neighbors. Does that mean I'm in favor of giving away the store? Certainly not. What it does mean, though, is if an opportunity presents itself, we use TIF, community improvement districts, which are known as CIDs, and transportation development districts to our benefit, and if the developer presents a program and a proposal that's beneficial to the city of Crestwood, the city certainly should take a look at it.
"The other thing is, I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about TIF. I'll give an easy example. If a business is currently generating $100,000 in sales tax now, but with redevelopment it's going to increase to a million dollars. There's a $900,000 differential. What that means is the increment, $1 million less the $100,000, is $900,000. We will recapture 50 percent of that. The other 50 percent goes back to pay the TIF notes and TIF bonds. So it's not as if the city is giving away money. Frankly, we're not getting the whole pie, but you know what? It's better to get half a pie than no pie at all. We have to be willing to be aggressive in redevelopment with our city. In addition, ladies and gentlemen, Sunset Hills is proposing a $42 million TIF. Do I think that's the right thing? I certainly don't. But you better be concerned about it and if we're unwilling to use these same development tools our neighbors are, we are going to continue losing businesses because if a business has an opportunity to go to some place that's cheaper or stay in Crestwood, guess what? They're going to go to somewhere else that's cheaper ...,'' Fagan said.
Robinson said, "... When I served on the board back in '88 to '92, we were going through some changes and we were using, going to use eminent domain and TIF and all this. I found it to be rather un-American and not that we don't need to use TIF if the occasion comes about that that's the only way we can get a particular piece of property developed or whatever. But I think, and I'm sure of this, that there are companies out there that are willing to build and develop, especially a place like in Crestwood that do not need the TIF. Sometimes these are means, and lawyers are good at this, they like to get, move the money on over to the developers so that they can take advantage of whatever's going on. I have been against eminent domain unless it's a last resort to take — if the city needs a new fire station and there's only one place (for it), I might consider it. But I'm against that and I'm against taking money from our school districts by using TIF and every time, every time they decide they want to do something, they want to use TIF. Well, somebody's getting rich off of it and I think we can do it without it. If I'm proven wrong, we will look for a TIF financing, but I think we'll see that there's a change when I'm your mayor that we can do these developments without taking away from our children's schools ...''
The candidates were asked what they will do if Prop-osition 1 does not pass. They were asked if they supported it and if it does not pass whether they would promise not to support another tax increase until April 2006?
Robinson said, "Because I recognize that the city is in sad financial condition, I've taken a neutral stance on the bond issue. I'm going to leave it up to you people out there whether or not you want to support a bond issue. I personally — if you ask me personally how I'm voting, I'll tell you. 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. What I will do and when I'm your mayor is I will make sure that everything is evaluated. We'll check to see where the excessive spendings are happening. We will look this place over and if there's places where we can make cuts without gutting — one thing that will — or two items that will not be cut as only as the last resort and I don't see any last resort, that's our Fire Department and our Police Department.
"We will maintain the high standards that we've always had like the quick responses and most of you, like me, you're getting a little older. And young people use these, too, but it's important that we have our Police and our Fire department as it is and I will not threaten to gut your Fire Department, Police Department. The other thing is, one, we need to keep on going and if we decide that we need money to balance the budgets for 2006, we may come back and tell you that we need a tax increase. But we're not going to borrow money, we're going to do a long-term plan, not (a) short-term fix ...,'' Robinson said.
Fagan said, "... Yes, I am in favor of Proposition 1. I have been out in front. You know what, it wasn't the politically expedient thing to do. I could have asked the board to not put it on the ballot at the same time I'm running for re-election, but you know what? That's not in the best interests of Crestwood, in my opinion. I've said also all along, though, it's not what Tom Fagan wants for the city of Crestwood in terms of delivery of services, it's what all the citizens of Crestwood who vote want. If you don't think that it's necessary, then you're going to vote it down. If the case can't be made, then you shouldn't vote for it. I find it interesting that my opponent is taking a neutral position, and, frankly ladies and gentlemen, I don't believe that's leadership. It's interesting because on his Web site originally he said he was opposed to it. He tells us he's neutral and I believe he said at one of the town-hall meetings to a couple ladies he was for it.
"Sorry, with all due respect, sir, that's not leadership. In addition, I find it appalling to say that you can't trust politicians. I'm not a politician. I'm a lawyer by trade. This is a part-time position,'' he said to some laughter. "I'm glad that's humorous to some people, but it's also that, ladies and gentlemen, if it was something that I didn't think was good for the city of Crestwood, then I wouldn't have put it on the ballot. In addition, I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about where the money comes from. Ladies and gentlemen, we have three separate funds now and we want to expound on this point later on. No. 1, general fund. No. 2, capital improvements fund. No. 3, parks and stormwater fund. Those are the three major funds. The general fund I believe has 80 percent of its expenses tied up in salaries and benefits. Ladies and gentlemen, you know where two-thirds of those come from? Police and fire. Our general fund is the one in the most trouble. If you're going to cut any type of expenses, you're going to have to do some things with services ...''
The candidates were asked what they would do with the money if the retrofitting of City Hall to include a new police facility was not done.
Robinson said, "Well, first of all, that's a big debt and I would like to see us get rid of those COPs (certificates of participation) bonds and try again. That would relieve us of about $12 million of debt and we have right now $24 million worth of debt, as I said before. If we got rid of those or we reduce, if the board was willing to reduce the size of the Taj Mahal, we could be able to save probably $2 million or $3 million. I'm not a construction worker, but I know that the bigger you are the more it costs, the more the maintenance, more the cleaning, more of everything it's going to cost this city. So if we reduce the size and the board was agreeable, we could probably — and I'm pretty sure that we could take that money that's saved and use it on our streets.
"Our street program is — it has been absolutely zero and when the mayor says he's going to devote $500,000 to the street construction, that's nothing. We voted several years ago and I was the big pusher when I was on the board to get our streets reconstructed and I think we approved a $12 million bond issue to be able to — or a tax increase, but it may have been a tax increase of sales tax — to get our streets repaired and back into order. Now they're starting to deteriorate again. We've got — they're squeezing out money to fix one of the worst streets in Crestwood and that's Ewers and I, for one, believe that all the streets will start looking like that if we don't get back on the job. So we are, if I'm elected, we will be getting back on the job of taking care of our streets and protecting your property values ...,'' Robinson said.
Fagan said, "If the police building's not built, I think what you have to do is return the bonds. You could defease them as one of the aldermen has suggested. The board has voted on this several times and has decided not to. It has been discussed ad nauseum. Secondly, my opponent, he criticizes the present board for redesigning it, yet he's saying we don't need the so-called Taj Mahal, we ought to redesign it. Guess what? We're going to pay a heck of a lot more design fees for that. Thirdly, I'd like to talk about the streets. It's interesting, my opponent was on the board from 1988 to 1992. Very little money was spent on streets, very little money.
"Frankly, you were not on the board, sir, when the sales-tax increase, a half-cent sales-tax increase, was put on the ballot and I believe it was November of 1993. The state law was not challenged, if I recall correctly, until after that time, after you left the board. So that is factually erroneous that you were on there for the streets. If the board decides that the police building should be reduced, obviously, that's the board's decision. I would say to you that we have studied this issue and the board as a whole has come to a consensus, not a perfect majority, that the building should be built. And, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to talk a little bit more about statistics. People want to throw around Webster (Groves) and Ballwin and all these other places. They're comparing apples to oranges. What you need to look at is how many arrests do we make? How much crime do we have at the mall? Do we want to keep the mall good? I think you have to look at it as a global thing, a global picture. Good streets. We can still do good streets. Ask our public works director. He'll tell you he has a five-year plan and that he can redo the streets in an appropriate condition. Is it the Taj Mahal of streets? No, we spent $14.2 million, ladies and gentlemen, so far on redoing our streets. Were they needed? Yes, they were because the people on the board at the time abdicated their responsibility to fix the streets ...,'' Fagan said.
Noting that the recent state audit found the city to be in poor financial condition, the candidates were asked how they plan to resolve the city's financial situation.
Fagan said, "The state auditor did tell us we're in poor financial condition. Frankly, we didn't need to have a state audit to tell us that. I think everybody on the board and the people who read the papers and all of you here tonight could tell us that we're in poor financial condition. It depends what are we going to do. If the bond issue passes, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not here to tell you that's the be-all and end-all, but it's a good start. It wipes the slate clean. It helps us out tremendously, but if you as the voters say we don't want it, we don't want to increase the property taxes and we don't think it's needed, we're going to make changes. We're going to have to reduce services. As I said before, 80 percent of the general fund expenses are for salaries. Eighty percent. If you think you can cut a whole host of paperclips and rectify our financial problem, I would respectfully disagree with that. In addition, if the bonds pass or if they don't pass, we still have to be aggressive in pro-growth and the redevelopment of the areas along Watson Road. Watson Road is obviously our hugest development and our financial corridor, if you will, along with Westfield's Crestwood Shopping Center. I am very hopeful that the market analysis that has been done will give both the city and Westfield some guidance as to what can be done. We've had conversations with them. They had a two-phase proposal.
"Frankly, the first phase was not all that exciting to me. The second phase was much more exciting. However, Westfield said before we're going to go ahead and do the second phase, we want to look at the market analysis, which the city was a strong proponent of. We need to find out what we have too much of. I tell people on the campaign trail (for) an example is if we have five widget stores and the market analysis tells us you have too many, obviously we don't want to recruit a sixth widget store. In addition, we have formed the Economic Development Commission. We're going to have a lay board that's going to give us some out-of-the-box ideas and we have an economic development person in Miss Ellen Dailey, who's been on the job about six or eight months that's assisting us greatly with redevelopment,'' Fagan said.
Robinson said, "Well, first of all, I never signed the petition for the audit. I'm not involved in Creston Center at all except I accept people's help when they're tired of all the things that have been going on in this city. If they want to help me get elected mayor, I accept. I don't care who it is. These are all either business people or these are all citizens of our city. They deserve the opportunity to make a change if they so desire and if you think I'm going to sit up here and criticize those who have felt they've been wronged, I will not do that — not even as a candidate or as the mayor. I'll certainly show the people that come before the board a lot more respect than they've gotten from my opponent ... The audit has been a very good thing for this city. It has cleared the air and restored some of the trust that our citizens have been worried about. I didn't realize they didn't check the financials. I didn't know that they only checked the procedures and the methods that the city operated under, but I found out when I came to the audit meeting that's what their responsibility is. They gave us the findings and I as your mayor will ensure that all of their findings are implemented. I promise ...''