On June 5th, the Cape Girardeau city council voted to raise utility fees for water, sewer, and trash throughout the city. After a few tense public hearings and some pushback from south Cape Girardeau residents, a memorandum was made to help some residents more easily pay their water bill. KRCU’s Lindsey Grojean spoke with city manager, Scott Meyer on why the utility fee increase was necessary, and to clear up what decisions were made in June’s city council meeting regarding utility rates.
Hello, Lindsey, how are you?
I’m good, how are you?
Awesome. So, some decisions have been made among the city council in public hearings this past month: council members voted to raise the utility rates for water sewer and trash by 2 percent, which will be implemented on July 1. So, for the sake of more understanding, what are some of the reasons that the city had behind raising these utility fees?
Well, it’s the same type of things that businesses have: to raise to keep up with their costs. So, we have rising materials costs, we have rising labor costs - especially when it comes to health insurance and workman’s comp - and those types of things. So, those are some of our bigger drivers in the utility area.
One of the council members had mentioned that there were about 250 cutoffs a month, was that correct?
Yeah, it’s an average amount of cutoffs where we actually disconnect people's water per month.
And how is that damaging to the city utility management?
Well, it actually costs more to turn someone's utility off and then turn it back on than it does for the fee that we get; we get a disconnect fee for that activity. So, from that standpoint, it does cost the city additional money over what we have. And then people doing without that service is not good for them, and, you know, we’d certainly rather people not have their utilities turned off, but we have a fiscal responsibility to the other citizens to be fiscally responsible.
Alright. And a lot of people don’t really know exactly utility disconnects and reconnects and upkeep are managed. Could you explain maybe a few things about how all that works?
Sure. When the bills are sent out to the place they get the service, and just as a side note, we did just change our bills from a postcard to an envelope with more information in it. So, that's one of the things that's kind of been a difference that's happened here in just the last few months. But, they get the bill. And if it’s not paid, they receive a late notice. And then they receive a disconnect notice after about two months, and they have so many days to either make arrangements for paying the bill, or to pay the bill. And if they don’t do that, then they’re disconnected.
Alright. And so, you guys had some pushback from community members on raising the fees. As they’d explained, some residents currently struggle with utility payments. How did you all respond to those concerns?
Well, we certainly looked at the fees, made sure that they were necessary, and they were. Probably the biggest pushback we got was on the very large increase on the deposit that we have. So, several months ago, back in March or April, the council began to discuss at their meetings the possibility of raising the deposit fee to be twice the average utility bill. The average bill is about $77.50 and so to do twice that is $155. Currently, and for many years, we’ve just had a $75 deposit. Our ordinance has always said it’s twice the average bill, we just haven’t raised it for years and years. So, to raise it that amount, we talked to the council about it and they decided to go ahead and raise it this year, and we did start doing that. That’s one of the things that was pushed back about, was that raise was a big, much larger portion, and made it difficult for people, if they got their utilities turned off, to then come up with that high of a deposit. What happened as a result of that was that we, the council, came up with some extra funds to match pledges. We have agencies and churches that pledge to help people with their bills, and if they help them with their deposit, we will match whatever they have up to $6,000 a year; that’s the total we’ve set aside. But, the council asked that we monitor that, and come back and ask if we felt like more money was necessary. But, we did try to come up with a way to help the agencies and folks get through this quick transition on the deposit, because that was probably the most impactful thing toward getting people not having to stay off water. So we felt like that was the place to concentrate most of the effort.
Is there anything else you wanted to let the public know about the new utility rates?
Well, 2 percent of an average bill is about $1.12 additional per month, and obviously every dollar is a difficulty for some, and we don't deny that. But just to kind of put it in perspective, it’s about $1.12, so the average bill went from $78.87 to $79.99. So, just wanted to point that out. And if you look at it on a trash sewer and water basis, you know it’s about a little over $20 for trash, it’s about a little over $33 for sewer, and it’s a little over $25 for water.
Alright, I think that’s all we need for today. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much!