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Stacy Kinder

Mayor's update

Stacy Kinder is the mayor of Cape Girardeau.

Opinion

Gun violence, infrastructure, budget on center stage

The mission statement for the City of Cape Girardeau states that Cape will “actively promote a safe, innovative climate through city services that enhances the quality of life for its citizens and our region”.

There are many ways the city goes about delivering on that mission, but it is seen most obviously in the city’s focus on public safety and infrastructure.

Additionally, the annual budget process shows the public clearly how the city invests in the community. This process is going on now, as the City Council considers one of its biggest responsibilities to the citizens — passing an annual, balanced budget. I’d like to give you all several important updates on all of these vital aspects of your municipal government.

Public Safety

Providing protection, security, rescue and emergency management is all considered to be any municipality’s most sacred duty to its citizens. Our police and fire departments are committed to work that engages in best practices and training, while also investigating new threats and how to best deal with them. In previous columns, I have highlighted many of those methods, as well as ongoing equipment and technology investments, that help our public safety forces conduct the best work possible.

We have seen some very public and brazen gun violence in Cape, and the sense shared by many is that this kind of activity is growing in both its nature and occurrence. The urgent question before us is how the municipal government, as well as the community, can engage in work that will prevent gun violence from happening in the first place. A brilliant book written by Dan Heath in 2020, “Upstream”, speaks to this very concept — engaging in the work of preventing problems rather than simply reacting to them. It is often difficult work to create and even more challenging to quantify — how could we measure the gun crimes that didn’t happen because something was done five years prior? As Heath notes, reaction is more tangible. But the upstream solutions in prevention can accomplish “massive and long-lasting good” and so must be part of the equation. The City intends to begin delving into what might be appropriate upstream solutions.

In conjunction with city administrators, I have spent the past few months developing a Gun Violence Task Force. It is an ad hoc committee, beginning in July and meeting for six months, and will involve a large number of community members and those in various organizations with relevant expertise and experience.

The focus of the committee’s work will be to zero in on how the City might impact and influence issues surrounding gun violence or what advocacy the City should be involved in. This committee’s work will be a public process, and there will be much more information coming forward about how the public might stay informed or participate in the process.

I am very thankful for community members who are willing to embark in this kind of work. It will involve challenging, time-consuming research and communication into what will be difficult issues to consider, covering challenges of law enforcement, social services, housing and nuisance laws and our youth, to name just some. This issue impacts every aspect of our community — safety of our citizens, education, business recruitment and retention, community development, population growth — and we must begin the difficult task of addressing it head on if we expect to see our city thrive.

Infrastructure

In addition to public safety issues, strong infrastructure is also a vital component to seeing Cape prosper. I want to highlight two infrastructure issues the public will hear a lot about in the near future.

First, the Transportation Trust Fund 7 (TTF7) Committee will be forming this month. First created and voter-approved in Cape in 1995, the Transportation Trust Fund involves a half-cent sales tax that goes into a city fund used solely to complete identified street improvement projects in the city. TTF projects are funded based upon sales tax collection, so that no money is borrowed to fund the projects. The TTF sales tax only runs for five years, then requires voter approval for renewal.

The ad hoc TTF committees have been responsible for working with municipal staff to create a list of street projects to ultimately present to the City Council for approval. For TTF7, that list will be presented in December, and the council will need to vote to place TTF7 on the ballot for voter consideration in April 2025.

The TTF program has been an invaluable tax initiative for the city, our neighborhoods and commercial streets over the years. You can find much more detail on all the TTF work completed by going to the city website at www.cityofcape.org/ttf. Just as with the Gun Violence Task Force, it takes citizens devoting their time and energy to produce solid recommendations to the city council for this process to work most effectively, and I appreciate those who have volunteered in this important effort.

Secondly on the topic of infrastructure, the city’s water treatment facility is going to be a large issue the City will be discussing for quite a while, as we consider how to best renovate and update what is a very old facility that is reaching the end of its useful life. This is the system that treats and distributes the clean water that ultimately reaches every faucet, so to say it is of crucial importance to the community’s health and development is not an overstatement.

There will need to be short-, medium- and long-term investments made to bring the facility in line with what is needed. Earlier in May, the City Council approved the purchase of a new high-density lime system, to aid in the softening and pH control of the city’s water supply. An additional filter pipe gallery will need to be added soon — this is included in the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) budget. These items alone will cost more than $7 million. The City has created important reserves in the past few years that will allow for these expenses to be made, but moving forward, determining how to pay for massive yet essential water treatment facility investments will be a large, multifaceted discussion, and we will likely need local, state and federal financial investments to create the water system our city needs.

One last note — at the June 3 meeting of the City Council, the group voted to raise water rates by 5%, which is the highest amount the council can raise annually. The increased fees will contribute to increasing annual operating costs, but will not be nearly enough to help fund these needed upgrades to the system. The city is putting together a lot of information for the public to help educate everyone on all the issues and needs.

Annual budget

The FY25 budget was brought forward for initial consideration and approved at the June 3 meeting. It contains a lot of information of each department’s projected expenses and revenue, as well as what each has accomplished in the last year, and goals in FY25. It also includes information on fee and salary schedules, as well as municipal debt statements. You can see the full document on the city website at www.cityofcape.org/budget.

In last month’s letter, I highlighted some of the most significant sources of revenue to the annual budget, and to the General Fund in particular. I continue to specify the General Fund, as it accounts for the most basic municipal functions of public safety and street and parks maintenance, as well as providing for contingencies in employee benefits, Parks and Recreation and airport operations, as well as other special project needs. It is the operational fund for the City.

Listed here are some of the expense-related highlights and challenges of FY25:

The city’s efforts in the recruitment and retention of great municipal staff remains a high priority. This budget includes another 3% increase in salaries and benefits for all employees. Personnel expenses account for 69% of General Fund expenditures, which reflects its prime importance for the city.

FY25 dedicates 58% of total expenditures in the General Fund to public safety, which is another indication of the priority placed on those necessary services to the residents.

Operating costs continue to be impacted by inflation, seen in the supplies and equipment given our staff, as well as in construction and repair costs.

Employee benefits costs also continue to rise. The City funds the cost of claims annually and for FY25, the City anticipates needing an additional $560,000 to fund the planned level of claims. As we move forward with other insurance costs for coverage of city property assets, vehicles and liability coverage, we will consider self-funding as a method to control the increase in the cost of these types of insurance.

Sizing the fleet, replacing the fleet and reserving for future fleet replacement constitute a big piece of planning and budgeting in FY25.

These are all very brief updates into large, complicated items on the City’s priority list. We will continue to get timely, updated information to the public at all times. Please don’t hesitate to contact me, your City Council ward representative or municipal staff with questions or concerns about these or any other issue.

Stacy Kinder is mayor of Cape Girardeau.

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