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Group seeks referendum on ordinance OK'ing Westfield lease

May 11, 2005 - A group of Crestwood residents hopes to place before voters a referendum to reconsider an ordinance adopted by the Board of Aldermen approving a lease agreement with the Westfield Corp.

Aldermen voted 5-3 to adopt the ordinance approving the agreement with the Westfield Corp. to lease office space at the West-field Shoppingtown Crestwood while the retrofitting of the Gov-ernment Center to include a new police facility takes place.

Opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore, Ward 3 Alder-man Don Maddox and Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel.

Aldermen voted to approve the ordinance during the first part of their April 26 meeting presided over by Mayor Tom Fagan, before Roy Robinson, who defeated Fagan in the April 5 election, took the oath of office. After aldermen voted to adopt the ordinance, Fagan signed it.

Before the vote was taken by the board, Robinson urged aldermen not to approve the lease, citing the city's "serious financial problems.''

Shortly after he was sworn in, Robinson called for a work session to discuss the "resizing'' of the "retrofitting'' of the Crestwood Government Center to include a new police facility. Roughly 60 people attended that work session, which took place May 5.

Five residents — Donald G. Clark, Zachary McGee, Donald Zinzer, Lillian C. Casey and Donald B. Ulmer — forming a Petitioners Committee last week submitted an affidavit for a referendum to reconsider the ordinance, No. 3,898.

The affidavit states, "... We will constitute the Petitioners Committee to be re-sponsible for circulating a referendum pe-tition seeking the reconsideration of Or-dinance No. 3,898 ...''

Former state Rep. Jim Murphy, who is serving as spokesman for the committee, said residents are baffled that city officials are so intent on moving forward with the renovation of the Government Center to include a new police facility at a time when the city is borrowing money for op-erating expenses.

"In the Crestwood Charter, the people have a right to petition for a referendum if they do not agree with the actions of the board,'' Murphy told the Call, noting that this group of residents has decided to exercise that function.

Describing Crestwood residents as fiscally conservative, Murphy said, "They want to have their house in order before they make any capital expenditures ... The average homeowner would not take a gamble like that.''

Of the Government Center renovation project, he said, "They want to scrap it until the city's funds get into a balanced position.''

In his May 6 operations report to the Board of Aldermen, City Administrator Don Greer wrote, "The city clerk has attached copies of the petition for referendum filed this week regarding the ordinance adopted by the board authorizing the signing of the lease with Westfield. The city attorney has reviewed the matter and informed me he is of the opinion that it does qualify for consideration.

"One must assume that this group is busy gathering the nearly 1,200 signatures re-quired to put the matter before the voters. The city attorney has instructed me to take no further action with regard to the lease,'' Greer wrote.

Voters in August 2002 approved Prop-osition S, the extension of a half-cent sales tax to fund construction of a new police building, fund repairs at the Government Center and allow the continuation of the city's street repair and replacement program. The half-cent, capital-improvements sales tax had been scheduled to end in 2008, but voter approval of Proposition S extended the sales tax until 2023.

In November 2002, the city issued $9.83 million in certificates of participation — or COPs — to fund the construction of a new police building and repairs to the Gov-ernment Center. The certificates, which carry an average interest rate of 4.21 percent, will be retired over a 20-year period with revenue from the city's half-cent capital-improvement sales tax. The city's payments are roughly $730,000 per year.

Interest over the 20-year period will total roughly $4.8 million, bringing the total cost to $14.6 million.

Due to the rising costs of concrete and steel, aldermen last summer scrapped the construction of the stand-alone police building and decided to retrofit the Gov-ernment Center to include a new police facility.

The Board of Aldermen had voted March 8 to authorize Fagan to sign a letter of in-tent to lease the space from Westfield be-ginning May 1.

In a March 8 memorandum to the board, Greer wrote, "During design and prebid discussions with the city's architect for the Police Building/Government Center renovations, we were informed that the most efficient and cost-effective manner of managing the construction would be for the board to essentially 'close' the Government Center and move City Hall during construction. Based upon that information, staff began a review of potential available space that would meet the needs of the city for a period of what could be 18 months.''

Under the agreement, the city would lease roughly 14,827 square feet of office space at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood at a cost of $3,333.33 per month. During construction, Police Department communications would relocate to the Fire Depart-ment. Moving to the leased space would be the city administration, finance, city clerk, police support/operations, management in-formation systems and the public works ad-ministration.

Voters defeated a proposed bond issue in the April 5 election. Approval of Propo-sition 1 would have given the city the authorization to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $6 million. Proceeds from the bond issue would have been used to allow the city to retire its line of credit with Southwest Bank, establish reserves sufficient to meet the city's cash-flow needs and reconcile debts the general fund owes other city funds.

During a Board of Aldermen meeting March 22, Greer said that issuing $4.732 million in bonds would accomplish those goals.

A 24-cent tax-rate increase for 10 years would have been required to retire the bonds. The city's current tax rate is 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Given Crestwood's financial problems, Murphy said the Petitioners Committee believes that "any progress in capital ex-pansion seems ridiculous.''

"How the hell do you proceed when you have to borrow money to pay the electric bill?'' he asked.

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