Cape city budget aims for increase in new fiscal year

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Cape Girardeau residents would pay more for trash and water service and golfing on the municipal course as part of a proposed $45 million city budget for the new fiscal year -- a budget 8.54 percent more than the current fiscal year even as city officials complain of funding woes.

The residential trash fee would increase 2.88 percent while the charge for city water and user fees at the Cape Jaycee Municipal Golf Course would increase by 5 percent, city officials said.

Most of the increase is in capital project spending for roads, city finance director John Richbourg said. The city council will review the budget at a special study session at 6 p.m. today at city hall. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The proposed budget comes in the wake of an April election in which voters soundly defeated fee and tax proposals designed to raise revenue for operating expenses, new equipment, a new fire station, a water park, an expanded police station and storm drainage improvements.

Richbourg said higher fees are needed to offset increased costs for water and trash services, and the operation of the golf course.

The average residential utility bill would increase by $1.26 a month while commercial businesses would see an average increase of $3.64 a month.

That means a resident who pays a monthly utility bill for sewer, water and trash services of $41.51 would pay $42.77 if the council approves the increase, Richbourg said. A business with a current city utility bill of $116.66 a month would end up paying $120.30 monthly with the fee increase.

The plan to raise water and trash fees doesn't sit well with some senior citizens.

Raymond Leadbetter, a 65-year-old retired towboat chief engineer, said the proposed increase would be one more added expense for those on fixed incomes.

"When it jumps, it hurts," he said of fee increases, but added that there's no choice but to pay them.

At the golf course, greens fees would rise to $9.92 weekdays and $12.13 on weekends and holidays, a 47-cent and 58-cent increase, respectively.

Family season passes for the elderly and individual passes would cost $385.88, an $18.38 increase. Family passes would cost $523.69, a $24.94 increase. Individual passes for the elderly would increase $11.81 to $248.06.

Dan Muser, parks and recreation director, said the higher golf fees would help offset increased fleet maintenance costs.

But Sam Peterman, who regularly plays golf at the city course, said golfers already suffered through increased golf fees last year.

"There will be a lot of people that will go somewhere else to play," he said.

The city of Cape Girardeau, he said, should upgrade the course. That would attract more golfers and increase revenue, he said.

Under state law, cities can increase user fees a maximum of 5 percent annually without voter approval.

The city plans to spend $10.4 million on capital improvements, much of it for street projects funded with transportation sales tax dollars.

"Operating costs are going up less than 3 percent," he said. "A big chunk of that is health insurance costs."

The city experienced a 45 percent increase in health insurance costs for its employees and retirees, an increase of more than $520,000.

Nearly half of the city's projected $34.6 million in operating expenses -- an estimated $16.5 million or nearly 48 percent -- is budgeted for pay and fringe benefits for city employees. The budget includes no pay raise.

The city currently has 372 full-time employees and 147 part-time workers. The number of part-time workers increases by about 200 during the summer months, city officials said.

335-6611, extension 123

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