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Wildwood wrangles with, passes 2020 budget

After moments of confusion, multi-layered motions and pointed questions on specific line items, the Wildwood City Council ultimately passed the budget for next year at the Dec. 9 meeting.

During the discussion of the 2020 budget, city leaders debated everything from council member compensation, food vouchers for event volunteers, a new truck for the police, and more.

The result was an approved budget for next year.

“We need to balance the budget, but we need to do it in a rational and objective way,” council member Joe Garritano [Ward 8] said after the meeting. “There was a lot of unnecessary drama at the eleventh hour by a few when there had been opportunities to provide input across the council.”

Some of the “unnecessary drama” that Garritano alluded to took place when fellow council member Niles Stephens [Ward 8] proposed an amendment to the 2020 budget that would reduce expenditures across the wide range of areas.

Wildwood council member Joe Garritano [Ward 8] comments on the proposed 2020 city budget on Dec. 9. [Photo by Jeffrey Bricker]

The cuts proposed by Stephens ranged from the elimination of food vouchers for event volunteers [$5,800], ending membership in the International Council of Shopping Centers [about $3,000 in fees and travel] and thousands of dollars in cuts to line items for postage across multiple departments.

“I think it’s important that we find the funding for the BBQ Bash,” Stephens told fellow council members. “With a few minor changes, we can find this in the budget …”

The annual Wildwood BBQ Bash is currently in the 2020 budget, but only to the tune of $35,000, as the city previously discussed on Nov. 25. That’s a 30% reduction from the $50,000 the city spent on the event in 2019. Stephens has argued that by reducing the funds available for the event next year, the city is essentially “un-inviting the promoter.”

“We have a large reserve fund, so I’m not worried about finding the money when needed. It’s more about the process of making tough choices to fully fund the annual commitments our residents want to enjoy, like clean parks and the BBQ Bash,” Stephens commented after the meeting.

Garritano added, “We always say we want more transparency [in the finances of the BBQ Bash]… it’s a different conversation if this was our city’s event. But it’s not.”

Following the council meeting on Dec. 11, BBQ Bash organizer and owner of St. Louis Home Fires Frank Schmer officially announced the BBQ Bash would be discontinued in Wildwood.

According to Schmer, the decision came following the city council’s decision regarding the 2020 budget.

“Essentially, when the budget was cut, it eliminated the ability to be able to hold the Bash in Wildwood,” Schmer said. “It was pretty simple … an event as big as the Bash required a financial commitment on both ends. With Wildwood cutting their budget – and I get that a community wants to be financially responsible – [but] it essentially made the Bash impossible to hold. It really was a financial decision more than anything.”

While multiple options for a future event venue are still being explored, according to Schmer, the event’s 11 years with Wildwood have been a “good run.”

“The decision was really dictated by the decision the city council made, not by any decision that we made on behalf of the [BBQ] Bash,” Schmer said. “The people that we worked with for the past 11 years are some dear friends and some of the kindest and most committed people in Parks & Recreation and at City Hall that you could work with … I’m definitely proud of all the friendships that we built there.”

Members of the Wildwood City Council participate in a debate over the 2020 budget on Dec. 9. [Photo by Jeffrey Bricker]

A motion by council member Tim Woerther [Ward 7], seconded by Kevin Dillard [Ward 3], sent most of Stephens’ proposed amendments to the 2020 budget back to the city’s Administration and Public Work Committee. Woerther was quick to point out publicly that the move essentially “killed” those proposed cuts just as a similar move had a few weeks ago when he proposed reducing the salaries for council members and the mayor.

Council member Crystal McCune [Ward 7] also had concerns about the 2020 budget. One item that caught her attention was an allocation for a Ford F 1-50 at a price tag of over $11,500. McCune wanted to know what the vehicle was needed for and why the city would be paying for it when Wildwood already spends millions on its policing agreement with the St. Louis County Police Department.

Captain James Mundel, the 6th Precinct Commander with jurisdiction in Wildwood, explained that the F-150 was needed to improve policing of Wildwood’s numerous parks and wooded areas. The vehicle would be owned and insured by St. Louis County.

“Under our contract, we are required to pay for additional services, and its cost was presented to our Board of Public Safety and represents only that portion attributable to the next annual term [not the whole cost of the vehicle],” Mayor Jim Bowlin wrote in an e-mail after the meeting. “In addition, its cost is paid monthly as part of our overall service fee – not all at once.”

In the end, the council approved the 2020 budget with expenditures expected to be just over $17 million.

“First and foremost, the 2020 municipal budget is balanced,” City Administrator Sam Anslem told the council. He explained that the city would reinstate the road and bridge fund. Revenue for that fund comes from designated sources from the state and county “in an effort to provide as transparent a budget as possible.”

After the long night of discussion and debate, Bowlin offered additional comments the following day.

“We’ve approved a balanced budget that includes prudent expenditures of our residents’ money without sacrificing services,” Bowlin said. “I look forward to discussing the best way we can continue to support the BBQ Bash in a fiscally responsible way, and am glad we’ve renewed our contract with the St. Louis County Police – particularly with the additional equipment they requested to provide enhanced protection for our residents.”

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