City officials propose ending municipal court, across the board utility rate increases and more
Cameron residents may have to drive more than 20 minutes to resolve their traffic tickets and other municipal code violations as part of a cost-cutting recommendation proposed during Monday’s special city council meeting outlining the 2022-2023 budget.
The proposal came as part of a slew of recommendations, including across the board increases in utility rates, with the Cameron City Council hoping to have the budget passed next month.
“We talked about that last week for consideration, moving municipal court … The issue is, if you really want to do that, we could probably not do that this year because it’s too complicated to do that. There is some savings to that, but there are also some disadvantages,” Cameron City Manager Steve Rasmussen said.
This year, the Cameron Municipal Court had a $65,000 budget. During Monday’s meeting, Cameron Finance Director Carmen Weigand said she set the budget at $69,000 for 2023. That budget does not include the annual $10,000 payment for a municipal prosecutor, which she said comes out of the Cameron Police Department budget. She estimated the city receives $69,000 in revenue each year.
“Another expense we might have, if we did not keep the municipal court, is the prosecutor. There would be prosecutor fees we would have to pay … There may be a cost differential there. We’ve been fortunate to pay $10,000 the last few years, but that may change. We can directly say our court system pays $79,000 out, and our history tells us we would be lucky to get $69,000 in from all of the different fines and costs associated with the court system,” Weigand said.
Cameron Mayor Roy Estes said the city would see increases in expenses due to employee travel costs in the event they must testify for a case, but Cameron Clerk Shellie Blades said there are other costs associated with the Cameron Municipal Court that do not appear as line items in its budget.
“Our budget pays for 10 percent of the clerk’s salary, but that does not include the backup person that I have to pay if that clerk is not here. They don’t pay for what the police department pays for a bailiff … There are other expenses related to the court that we’ve been paying for a while,” Blades said.
More electric, water rate increases coming
Citing dramatically increased costs in materials, and a $125,000 shortfall in the electric fund, Cameron Utility Director Zach Johnson proposed increasing the minimum electric use fee from $7.95 for $12. He said Cameron’s fee would remain well under Chillicothe’s $26 minimum fee, and Macon’s $18 fee. Johnson estimated the change would annually generate $139,000. With a $25 increase already expected as a result of debts incurred from construction of a $43 million, 25-mile water pipeline, and millions in improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, Johnson said the need to increase revenue for the water fund may come sooner than expected as he announced the fund’s $264,000 shortfall.
“The increase in cost of materials is killing us. But this is a little bit easier to identify. We’re $264,000 short … Chemicals, you’ll notice that went from $235,000 this year to $450,000. Those are the chemicals we use to treat our water. That number reflects if we were to purchase all of those chemicals next year at today’s price,” Johnson said.
In order to make up for the shortfall, Johnson requested increasing the minimum cost of service from $14.52 per month to $20, which he said would annually generate $200,000.