Cape officials poised to raise fees

Monday, June 6, 2005

Cape Girardeau sewer, water and trash customers should expect higher fees beginning with their July bills, but city officials maintain that the increases are nominal and are needed mainly to help pay city employee raises that were given in January.

An ordinance introducing the rate increases is to be introduced at Monday night's Cape Girardeau City Council meeting and the public is invited to give its input during a public hearing.

City finance director John Richbourg said the proposed budget includes a sewer increase of 3 percent, a water increase of 2.5 percent, a 4 percent trash fee increase and an increase of $2 per ton at the city's transfer station.

Richbourg said the increases are necessary to meet the operating and equipment needs for those departments.

"But the majority of it probably is in the increases that were given in January," Richbourg said. "The new pay plan is probably the biggest part of it."

The increases were set to take effect in January, but Richbourg said the city had "decent" fund balances to carry the pay plan and operating expenses.

"The fund balances were decent enough to carry them for six months, but not they're not decent enough to carry them forever," he said.

The council is expected to vote on the increases at its June 20 meeting.

Richbourg said the average utility bill is expected to increase a total of 3.14 percent, or about $1.35, from an average of $43.05 to $44.40 per month. The average commercial utility bill is expected to increase by 2.68 percent, or $3.26, from $121.46 to $124.72 per month.

Even after the increases, Richbourg said, the average residential and commercial utility bill will only have increased 2.05 percent and 2.09 percent respectively over the past five years. Richbourg pointed out that inflation has averaged about 2.47 percent per year.

"So we're not producing any significant amounts of net revenue," Richbourg said. "We've just covering our costs basically with the rate."

City council members said that they see the need to increase the fees, but they understand that people hate to see them increased.

"It's unfortunate that costs keep going up, but we need to act accordingly," said Mayor Jay Knudtson. "We'd like to be able to operate on a year-to-year basis without increases, but it's simply not possible."

Knudtson said that the council has analyzed the budget and eliminated as much "fluff" as it could.

"City hall is running about as efficiently as possible," he said. "So we don't have the ability to absorb fee increases."

Councilwoman Loretta Schneider, who was just elected in April, said she realizes that no one wants to see rate increases.

"I don't want to see them increased either," she said. "But we have to trust that these rates are necessary to meet some of the needs of things like the new water treatment plant and other things."

She also said that residents should want to see city employees see pay increases.

"Besides, I think relatively we have good services for just about as low a price as you can get for the kind of city we have," she said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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