Proposed budget includes rate hikes for water and sewer

The Cairo City Council got its first look at the proposed 2015-2016 operating budget Monday night and, if it stands, city rate payers will be paying a little more for water and sewer, but no other rate hikes are proposed or property tax increases.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton is proposing a $2 per month increase in the base charge for water and a $2 per month increase in the base charge for sewer effective July 1, 2015. This will increase the cost for residential customers to a base of $12 per month for water and $12 for sewer. General service customers will begin paying $14 per month base charge for water and $14 for sewer.
The city is projecting to benefit from a 14 percent decrease in the required retirement contribution to the employee retirement program, which is a savings of $107,925 from the current fiscal year. Addleton also has budgeted for a 12 percent decrease in the cost of workers compensation insurance for a savings of $19,231.
However, the cost of liability and property insurance is budgeted to increase by 35 percent or $55,802 in 2015-2016.
The city manager credits the city’s safety program for lowering workers comp claims, and he says a reappraisal of city property that increased values by $3 million was the reason for the increase in property insurance. Increased claims for liability insurance also contributed to the increase, according to the city manager.
Addleton is proposing a two percent pay raise for city personnel in the spending plan.
The proposed budget is based on revenues of $48,362,624 and expenses of $47,056,717, leaving a surplus of $1,305,907.
Included in the spending plan are a variety of capital outlay items. One of the big ticket items in the capital outlay budget of $9,498,225 is money for new electric, gas and water meters that can be read remotely at the utilities office and will eliminate the need in the future for meter readers.
The cost of the new electric meters is budgeted at $750,000; gas meters are projected to cost $500,000; and the water meters are projected to cost $1,189,645.
Also included in the 2015-2016 proposed budget is $3,300,000 for the construction of the new airport water well and plant. As part of that, a water line extension on Airport Road is needed and that project is budgeted to cost $200,000. The city manager has also budgeted $120,000 to run a three phase electric line to the airport to serve the new water treatment plant.
Addleton’s proposed budget also includes $750,000 for the replacement of the Lullwater Lift Station in southeast Cairo.
The city manager has also included $450,000 in the budget for a new fire engine, as well as $84,000 for three new police department vehicles and $124,000 for a new bucket truck for CNS cable.
The only other vehicles included in the budget are a new truck for the streets & sidewalks division at a cost of $22,000 plus $105,000 to replace two trucks in the electric distribution division.
The council met with department heads Monday night to review the capital outlay requests.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas questioned the investment of $500,000 for new gas meters when the sales of natural gas are so low.
Energy Services Director Rod Prince said if the council approved installing the new electric and gas meters, the council would not  have to send a man out to only read gas meters.
Councilmen also had questions for Fire Chief Bill Schafer concerning his recommendation to purchase a new custom fire engine.
The fire chief said that the new fire engine was purchased in 2008, but that the other units are 16 years old and 22 years old.
“Age itself isn’t the reason for my recommendation, but it is a factor,” Chief Schafer said.
Schafer explained that parts for the older fire engines are not readily available now and often have to be retrofitted.
According to the fire chief, the two older trucks were not designed to support the load that has been put on them and he said this results in safety concerns.
The city has purchased both custom fire engines and commercial fire engines in the past, but Chief Schafer highly recommended purchasing a custom fire engine.
He estimates the difference in the initial cost to be between $75,000 and $150,000 with the custom being the more expensive.
“I would suggest you get bids on both of them and then this council can make a decision which way to go,” Councilman Douglas said.
Chief Schafer estimated the useful life of a custom truck to be 35 years, and he pointed out that if a purchase order was issued today it would take approximately one year to be delivered.
Councilman Ernest Cloud said the city was faced with a similar choice over 20 years ago and the fire chief at the time left over it. Cloud encouraged the fire chief to get bids from all vendors and not just from one.
Councilman Douglas also warned Schafer not to draw up the bid specifications to specify one individual type of truck.
“Every fire chief has that special truck they want. I’ve been around a long time and I’ve seen it happen. I’m not saying that is happening here, but it happens. We need to get the best bang for our buck,” Councilman Douglas said.
Proceeds from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax will be used to fund the purchase of the new fire engine if the council includes it in the budget.
Public Works Director Raymond Stokes made the case Monday night for the replacement of the Lullwater Lift Station. According to Stokes, the lift station was constructed in 1961 or 1962. “It’s in really bad shape,” Stokes said.
“I can sleep better at night when I know we have the new water plant up and running and the Lullwater lift station replaced,” Stokes told the city council.
The council also met with Community Services Department Director Pat Mitchell to discuss the need for a mowing tractor and batwing mower for the cemeteries and parks division at a cost of $52,000. The proposed budget also includes $75,000 for Azalea Park upgrades.
According to Mitchell, the plan is to construct facilities at Azalea Park similar to those at Davis Park, which has become a popular spot for special events and is rented most of the time.
Although city workers will be paid more in 2015-2016 if the budget is approved as presented, the city will be operating with three fewer employees than in the current fiscal year. Since 2008, the total number of city employees has dropped from 182.5 to 168 in the proposed 2015-2016 budget.
A public hearing on the proposed 2015-2016 budget will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26, in the city council chamber. Copies of the spending plan are now available in the city manger’s office at City Hall.

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