Why we support wastewater issue

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cape Girardeau voters will be asked to vote April 5 on how the city should finance a new wastewater treatment plant and other system improvements.

The current plant is operating over capacity and has been in violation of state and federal standards since 2009. This violation has resulted in the city paying a $15,000 civil penalty. To avoid having the federal government take over control of the wastewater system at expected much higher charges to citizens, the city has agreed to implement a new wastewater treatment system, as well as launch an $111,000 supplemental environment project by 2013 in lieu of further penalties.

The question facing city voters is not whether the city should construct the new facility and make the necessary system improvements, but rather how should the projects be financed.

The options on the ballot represent, according to city leaders, the least expensive way to pay for these projects. They include a bond issue and the extension of a quarter-cent sales tax -- which is currently scheduled to sunset in 2017. The total to be funded for the new plant and needed improvements is $72 million.

While a sewer usage rate increase will also be necessary, city leaders say the increase will not be as severe should the ballot issues pass. The average household sewer bill is currently $13.46 a month. Under the proposed plan, this rate would increase to $35.92 a month. However, should both the sales tax and bond issues fail, the average monthly bill would increase to $47.77. Worst-case scenario is if the city does nothing. Then the government would take over at rates much higher to households than the city anticipates and additional penalties would be charged to the city.

While asking taxpayers for a sales tax extension is never ideal, especially in less-than-desirable economic times, the option that city leaders have put forward is the best and most cost-efficient plan. Rejecting this option would impose an even greater burden on working families, many of which cannot afford such an increase. It's for these reasons that we support both the bond issue and an extension of the quarter-cent sales tax to fund the new wastewater treatment plant and necessary improvements.

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