City looks to hike rates for water and solid waste collection
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City of Cairo residents are not likely to be asked to pay more in ad valorem taxes this fall, but come July 1, the cost for solid waste collection and disposal as well as water and sewer rates may go up.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton presented his proposed budget plan to the city council Monday night. Addleton is proposing hikes in the residential charge for household garbage pickup, but commercial rates remain unchanged.
Under Addleton’s proposal, city residents, who currently pay $20.50 per month for household garbage pickup, will pay $23 per month effective July 1. To compare, residents of Bainbridge currently pay $22.94 per month; Camilla residents pay $21 per month; Moultrie citizens pay $28 per month; and residents of Thomasville are charged $23.94 per month.
Commercial rates will remain at $3.50 per cubic yard, which compared favorably to surrounding cities: Bainbridge – $3.80; Camilla – $3.80; Moultrie – $3.50; and Thomasville $3.35 per cubic yard.
The city manager noted that the city’s solid waste expenses had increased since household garbage is no longer being accepted at the city’s landfill and is now being transported to landfills in Thomas and Decatur counties.
Addleton is also proposing an increase in what city residents pay for water, but sewer rates, which are already higher than all of the surrounding cities, will remain level.
Currently, residential customers pay $1.40 per 1,000 gallons of water. If this budget plan is approved, that rate would increase to $1.60 per 1,000 gallons effective July 1. Similar increases are planned for commercial and industrial customers. Commercial customers currently are charged $1.65 per 1,000 gallons and the new rate will be $1.85 per 1,000 gallons. The industrial rate is projected to rise from $1.55 to $1.75 per 1,000 gallons.
Residential and commercial customers are charged a base rate of $14 per month and that rate will remain the same. Industrial customers pay a base rate of $50 and it too will remain unchanged under the current proposed budget plan.
While Addleton admits that Cairo’s sewer rates are higher than those in surrounding communities, he notes that the city’s water rates are low.
The total water and sewer rates combined for the residential base rate is $28 per month. Base rates for other communities are $25.55 per month for Bainbridge; $20 per month for Camilla; $41 per month for Moultrie and $42.34 per month for Thomasville.
The combined water and sewer rate per 1,000 gallons in Cairo currently is $5.05 per 1,000 gallons. The proposed increase would make it $5.25 per 1,000 gallons, which is compared to $5.10 per 1,000 gallons in Bainbridge; $3.90 per 1,000 gallons in Camilla; $5.05 per 1,000 gallons in Moultrie and $5.42 per 1,000 gallons in Thomasville.
Addleton reminded the council that Cairo is the only city in his comparison of neighboring communities that is treating for arsenic in its drinking water.
“The cost to produce water is more and we will have to replace some arsenic media (used in the treatment process) at some point and I want to be prepared for that. These other cities don’t treat for arsenic. We have really cheap water,” Addleton said.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas said if the city could reduce its water losses and actually bill for all of the water it is pumping out of the ground and treating then rate hikes may not be necessary.
However, Addleton said that the other neighboring cities had water losses equal to if not more than those experienced here.
Councilman Jerry Cox questioned whether Addleton was proposing increased rates because other communities charged higher rates or if he was proposing an increase because it would generate the money required to provide the service.
“It’s expensive to treat water and I’m not even sure if this is enough. We are going to have to continue to monitor it closely every year,” Addleton said. The city manager noted that expenses of the water and sewer fund for the 2019-2020 fiscal year was projected at a $666,265 loss, which is impacted by the $859,323 annual debt service on the 2004 combined utility bond.
According to Addleton, the city is continuing to pay the price for the failure of the multimillion Land Application Sewer system constructed on Wight Road. Those bonds will be paid off in 2024, which will improve the water and sewer fund’s financial picture, according to Addleton.
The city is also investing $4,057,000 in the complete rehabilitation of the #2 water plant at MacIvor Drive.
In response to Councilman Cox, Addleton said that comparisons with neighboring communities should be used as indicators. “Are we in the ball park? I think we’ve got low water rates because we’ve had high sewer rates as a result of the LAS. I tried to offset those, but we may not can do that with water rates any longer,” Addleton said.
The city manager said if voters approve the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax this November that would also provide financial relief to the city’s water and sewer fund.
“If it doesn’t pass would you just take rates up again next year?” Mayor Booker Gainor asked Monday night.
“I don’t know where else to get it,” Addleton responded.
City attorney Thomas L. Lehman complimented the council for taking action to provide the city with an alternate source of water. Lehman said for as long as he has been city attorney the city had needed a redundant water system. “We’ve had all our eggs in one basket and if that basket had gone rotten I don’t know how you would have provided water to the city,” Lehman said.
“It’s not a big increase, but a needed increase,” the city manager added.
Addleton is also proposing adding an additional building inspector to the building department. According to the city manager, Building Official Brian Hayes had been requesting the additional personnel for the past three years. To pay for the additional employee, the city manager is proposing a $30 fee for additional utility inspections required after the first two inspections.
The city manager explained that any time utilities are turned off there is an inspection done before the service will be restored. Customers are provided a punch list of items to complete before calling for a subsequent inspection. City officials say often times additional inspections are required and in rare instances four or five total inspections before the required issues have been addressed.
Councilman Douglas agreed that residents who do not do what they are required to do to begin with should be charged more. Based on his opinion, each additional inspection should be staggered and a higher price paid with each inspection. “It needs to be more than $30,” Douglas said.
Mayor Gainor asked if the additional person would be a part-time employee or full-time position. Addleton said he did not think the appropriate candidate could be attracted if the position was only part-time.
The city manager said his plan would be that this third inspector’s primary duty would be working on nuisance abatement.
Councilman Douglas said that the new person could work on nuisance abatement and never be able to finish the job.
During Monday night’s meeting, Councilman Cox said now is the time for the city to consider enacting an ordinance like one in Moultrie that authorizes the council to increase the millage rate on blighted property as another tool in the war on blight.
The proposed budget presented Monday night also includes a two percent cost of living raise for all city employees. Councilman Douglas requested the city manager review the payroll for employees at the lower end of the payscale and make a recommendation whether or not to boost the hourly rates of those employees and increase the pay of those on the upper end at a lower percentage.
Addleton said that if the council was interested in doing something to boost pay for the lower wage earners he would need to budget approximately 2.5 percent increase.
Mayor Gainor said with the proposed increases for water and sewer along with solid waste city workers would need the additional pay just to pay their utility bills.
“It would really help morale. It would help if we could reward them by paying them a little bit more than we’ve been giving them,” Mayor Gainor said.
The city is also facing projected increased costs in employee benefits in addition to the cost of living rase.
The city’s contribution to the employee retirement fund is projected to increase by 9.9 percent or $56,192; Workers Comp Insurance is set to increase 15.5 percent or $27,557; and the city’s self-funded health insurance plan will cost an additional 5.6 percent of $19,313 in 2019-2020.
Another increase anticipated in the proposed budget is a 3.4 percent increase in the city’s property and liability insurance or an additional $10,424 per year.
With the proposed addition of a third building inspector, the city’s total workforce will stand at 145, down from a high of 166 in the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
The $42.2 million spending plan also includes $3.7 million for the new police headquarters, $575,000 for street resurfacing, $100,000 for improvements to Southern Terrace Park and $25,000 for improvements to the linear parks downtown.
Under Addleton’s proposed budget, $415,500 will be appropriated for other agencies including $237,500 for Roddenbery Memorial Library; $41,000 for the Grady County Joint Development Authority; $56,000 for Holder Park Pool expenses; $6,000 for utilities for the Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls club; $15,000 for the downtown facade grant program; $15,000 for the downtown development authority; $35,000 for Main Street; and $10,000 for the Archway Partnership.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28.