A group of residents, furious over the City Council’s refusal to reconsider a recent water rate increase, is considering a recall campaign against the mayor and two councilmen.
Dozens of angry residents at the council meeting Tuesday demanded that the council rescind a water rate increase that some said has increased their bills fivefold. The council also was presented a petition asserting that residents, not the council, should decide what or whether there should be an increase. The petition was signed by 120 people.
Mayor Charles V. Smith and Councilmen Craig Schweisinger and Frank Fry Jr. opposed reconsidering the water rate before the midyear budget review in November, saying that rescinding the increase now would leave the city with a $3.4-million deficit.
The council is bitterly divided over whether to reconsider the increase. The councilmen blocked repeated attempts by Councilwomen Joy L. Neugebauer and Lyn Gillespie to force the issue onto the agenda and have a public hearing on the matter.
Barbara Bradberry, 57, this week picked up from City Hall the papers that outline the recall process. She said residents have lost their trust in the council. “If they aren’t representing the people, they have no business being in office,” she added.
Bradberry was so upset Tuesday that she was in tears as she asked the council to reconsider the increase.
“I felt like I might as well be out in the back yard talking to the fence,” she said Friday. “They were just not listening.”
The council unanimously approved the rate increase six months ago, saying the city had been subsidizing water use. The action doubled monthly water rates from 63 cents to $1.26 per 748 gallons; for the average family, monthly water bills went from $11.37 to $23.39. The county average is $24.25.
On Friday, Smith defended the council majority’s decision. “This is not a tax, this is just recovering the cost of (delivering) water to residents. The subsidy has kept the water rate in Westminster the lowest in the county for years. (But) the continued subsidy would have meant a multimillion-dollar deficit.” He said cuts in police and fire services would be necessary to keep water rates low, a contention that Neugebauer and Gillespie dispute.
Smith also said there must be other reasons if a bill has more than doubled. He suggested that confusion, leaks or misread water meters could be to blame.
The council will hear a report from the staff on the water-rate change Sept. 9 at its next regular meeting. Smith predicted that the report would vindicate the council majority’s decision.
As for the possibility of a recall, Smith said, “I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”