Sikeston Voters May Voluntarily Raise Utility Bills

Sikeston Voters May Voluntarily Raise Utility Bills
By: Amy Jacquin

(Sikeston, MO)--Sikeston voters will decide whether or not they want to raise their own utility bills.  If they willingly allow an extra three percent on their bill, that "extra" money will be used to support city services.  It's call the PILOT Program -- with PILOT standing for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, and city leaders are prepared for a hard-sell.
"These are pictures of drugs siezed just last week," says Chief Drew Juden, as he shuffles through some photos.  Sikeston's Drug Unit kept busy its first year in operation -- making almost 200 drug arrests. Chief Juden is quick to point out this success -- fighting to keep it off the budget chopping block.
"Their job is to work in high crime areas or target areas," explained Juden. And he says serious crime fell by 37 percent over the past two years.
"Which, in my estimation, is phenomenal," he says.  "It shows the commitment of the community. It shows the dedication and professionalism of my officers. And the fact that pro-active policing does work."
"The citizens demanded increased law enforcement," adds Mayor Philip Boyer.  "We gave it to them. It costs money."
Mayor Boyer explains how the city is facing a $450,000 budget shortfall -- naming public safety staffing, higher insurance payments, and more building maintenance. City leaders want to fill the gap by charging three percent more on utility bills.
"We have the opportunity to raise a dollar in Sikeston, and get three from out of town," says the Mayor. Boyer explains that 25 percent of the city-owned power plant's business is from Sikeston residents... the remaining 75 percent comes from outside customers.
The extra three percent will go directly to help fund city services, like special drug and school officers, park improvements, and the demolition of derelict homes and buildings.
But the biggest concern residents and business owners share with Heartland News is, that the city will then raise rates on top of the PILOT increase.  Mayor Boyer, though, says that won't happen.
"The city council is on the record, we set the rates," he explains.  "The BMU proposes it, but the council actually sets it. We will not allow the rates to be raised by more than three percent, as a direct affect of this pilot."
A study by the Missouri Minicipal League shows Sikeston is the only city in Missouri with a city-owned power plant, that does not have a PILOT program.
Some residents we caught up with say PILOT is not a bad deal, if there's no hidden agenda.
"It's a great idea, as long as they keep to what they say they're going to do, toward policing and more busts and stuff," says Doug Jones.
"I think it's a very good idea," echoed Gerlinda Carmack.  "We need all the help we can get in this area."
City leaders are prepared for a tough fight, but believe the answer to their budget problems is as obvious as the Sikeston power plant
Voters will decide the issue Tuesday, February 4th.