Despite OK of two of three proposals, officials find election results 'sobering'
November 16, 2005 - Despite two of three ballot measures be-ing approved by voters last week, some Crestwood elected officials found the election results "sobering.''
Crestwood voters Nov. 8 approved in-creases in the city's merchant license fee and the city's tax on utility gross receipts for commercial customers, but rejected an increase in the tax on utility gross receipts for residential customers. Approval of the two measures will generate nearly $239,000 annually for the city's general fund.
But given voters' rejection of increasing the tax on utility gross receipts for residential customers — for cable television and electricity — one alderman believes the city will be unable to pass a general obligation bond issue in next April's election, while two other aldermen are extremely skeptical of obtaining voter approval of some type of revenue-generating measure.
But Mayor Roy Robinson said last week he is optimistic that with the proper education, the city's voters would approve a well-defined and specific ballot measure to help alleviate the city's financial woes.
Robinson announced the election results during the Nov. 8 Board of Aldermen meeting that began one hour later than normal because of the election.
"... Everything passed except the residential. I'll still take that because that was the smallest increase. It's hard to believe that the people in our community don't realize that was a very small request that we were asking of you, but we'll take your word for it,'' Robinson said. "We're pleased. That will help some.''
The board voted 5-1 Nov. 1 to adopt an ordinance borrowing up to $3.5 million from Southwest Bank. Board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 was opposed.
The $3.5 million the city is borrowing includes a $1.5 million line of credit and a $2 million promissory note. As collateral for the $3.5 million from Southwest Bank, the titles to City Hall and the city garage on Pardee Lane are being pledged.
During the Nov. 8 meeting, aldermen discussed placing a bond issue on the April 4 ballot, but took no action.
Proposition 1, which would have authorized the city to issue up to $6 million in general obligation bonds, was overwhelmingly defeated by voters last April.
Citing the election results the board had received earlier that evening, specifically residents' rejection of the increase in the tax on utility gross receipts for residential customers, Robinson said, "... We better know what we're doing and we better all be together and I see no sense in a big rush to put something on the ballot. I think we need to be getting our heads together, determining what's the best route to take and make sure that we're all on the same page if you want to help the city get back some revenue for tax purposes ... We can discuss all we want to tonight, but I think we better use good judgment when we start moving forward to try to get a tax increase.''
Trueblood later said, "I can certainly agree with the desire for the board move slow on this. It's not been my intention to try to ram it down anybody's throat ... I suspect we're going to see a lot of discussion about this over the next few weeks, next few meetings, although realistically how many meetings are left in this year? Three? Two? So what may seem to be taking our time from our standpoint of view, may look to our citizens as we're rushing it.
"This is the fifth Tuesday in a row we've met on other issues as well as this and so it's not like we're trying to shove it down anybody's throat. I think we've met quite a bit and I think we also have to be realistic about how much time we have left before us. I have no objections to that because the amount of money and the selling of this is critical ...,'' he said.
Referring to a recent daily newspaper article about improvements planned for High-way 40, Trueblood said, "... It gives the daily number of cars going down the major thoroughfares running through St. Louis County and the lowest one on here of any major consequence is now Watson Road ...''
If that's any indication of traffic that's available to stop at the Westfield Shop-pingtown Crestwood, Trueblood said that should be a real wake-up call about relying solely on sales-tax revenue for the future.
Coupled with that evening's election results, he said, "... It comes down to something the mayor correctly stated earlier: We all have to be on board on this because this proposal, whatever we put before the citizens, will not pass if not every elected official on this board, including the mayor obviously, does not support it a hundred percent and is going to stand up for it. If any one of us is not willing to do so, I doubt seriously it would pass.
"Secondly, I will be very surprised it would pass unless the Crestwood Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility actively supported this as well. So it is, in my opinion, we and that other group in the city need to be bought into this. The failure to do so by us or by the citizens, of course, then the re-sults of the failure to pass this will be known next September and those parties who were opposed to it or who didn't wholeheartedly address it will then have to face the consequences at that time.''
Trueblood later noted that for the city to continue to operate at its current level of services, additional revenue is needed.
"There can be amongst us criticisms leveled at other members of the board or previous members or previous administrators for having not done this or having done that and that's all well and good, but the bottom line is if action isn't taken, there won't be anybody to level at unless you want to make real deep cuts, which we are pretty clear from what this board's heard from our citizens that those deep cuts aren't wanted by the folks who live out there.
"So we're caught in a quandary. We can save paper clips, but I think $3.5 million is not going be satisfied by paper clips. That's why I want the citizens and this board to seriously consider the methods before us to raise the revenues — as distasteful as they are,'' he said.
The board president discussed the differences between a bond issue and straight property tax-rate increase, noting that a bond issue would require approval by a supermajority of voters.
"The other option, of course, is a full-time permanent, never-goes-away property tax increase,'' Trueblood said. "If you, as I do, feel very uncomfortable going into 2006, September 2006, that we will be able to continue the line of credit from Southwest Bank or be able to make the payments after that period of time, let's say October of '06 might be more accurate, then I'm not sure we as a city can afford the amount of property tax increase to meet that debt. And that's what it is, that loan,'' he said.
"So the question is: How do you play that out? And I guess that's what this board is going to have to discuss with help from the citizens out there ... I think it's very clear to me that we can't continue to go to the retail market and ask for more sales tax from them. I don't see that as an option that's viable in the sense that it is declining,'' he said, once again citing the declining volume of traffic on Watson. "It's simple math. If they're not driving up and down Watson, the odds are they're not stopping there.''
Ward 4 Alderman Joe O'Keefe later discussed the election results, noting the two propositions that affected businesses were approved and the one proposition that affected residents failed.
"... I wonder at some point if we're missing the message. I hope I'm not missing the message. I hope the message isn't what I'm starting to think it is ...,'' he said, noting the board and the previous administration "told the good folks of Crestwood that we had to have this bond issue to pass or we were going to cut services. Well, it didn't pass and here we are. We've reduced some services, but we've managed to maintain significant services ... Although it's important to be united on whatever we do, I think we might be kidding ourselves to think that we're going to be able to do this.
"I should just say it's not going to be easy ... Even with being united, I think at what point are we just pushing off the inevitable to future boards? ... I don't want to be anybody that has a decision to make that just passes the buck, no matter what I do,'' he said.
Noting voters' rejection of Proposition 1, O'Keefe said he didn't know if anything would change unless voters see "a more significant squeeze or cut in services. I don't know. I hope I'm wrong. But I'm starting to think that we keep getting hit with the message and we keep looking for other options, and at some point we're just passing the buck and I don't want to be a part of that.''
Discussing the steps that were taken during last spring when Proposition 1 was on the ballot, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher later said, "... I believe the issue was turned into a political issue and the lies that were generated then caused the failure in 2005 and I believe with absolute certainty that it will fail in 2006. And I hate to say that, but I have very little confidence in the process at this point. So I don't know what the alternative is, but I think we're going to face more cuts and I think we may face a bleak future for Crestwood because I don't believe that this ballot issue will pass in April.''
Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel termed the election results "sobering,'' saying, "I'd expected each of these to pass by at least 60 percent. The residential (proposition) was essentially about the cable tax, was it not? An increase from 3 percent to 6 percent. I don't have cable. I don't know what percentage of the people in Crestwood do have cable. My guess is because we're basically an older population that the percentage of cable users is less than the national average. If you have a $50 monthly cable bill, it would have been a $1.50 tax increase. And if you don't have cable, why would you vote against that? ... I can't begin to comprehend how a minimal tax would go down.
"Now look at a property tax and I mean it's staggering to think about what needs to be done to overcome — what it will be to get to the level of getting acceptance or approval of a property tax increase — whether it be a simple or a bond type issue,'' he said.
Noting voter turnout was nearly 22 percent, Robinson said, "... I think with proper effort and if we get out and inform the people, make sure they know what the money's going to be used for and how it's going to be used, and that we're not out just trying to get money to do other things for other purposes, I think we can convince them that we need to get (these) bills that we've endured over the past few years paid off.''
The next meeting of the Board of Alder-men will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive.