Elkton Board Finally Approves 1st of 4 Utility Rate Hikes

Elkton Town Meeting, Aug. 18, 2010The town board’s work on getting more revenue for the utility fund is finally over this fiscal year.  It started last winter, and in the heat of an August evening the first of four recommended hikes is ready to go into force.  The pricing points were projected on a wall so everyone could see the changes, unlike the way the board approved the ordinance’s introduction in 50 seconds without comment on August 4.  The unanimous vote okays an increase of 30% for water and 10% for sewer. Elected officials will deal with allocating the rest of the hikes that are required in upcoming years.  Look for another round of rate setting exchanges that allocate hikes of 20% for water and 19% for sewer, which are need over 3 years.

The board’s procedural practices came up when the public was able to comment at the close of  proceedings.  “I don’t understand how you adopt water and sewer rates without holding a public hearing.  That was mandatory in the 20 years I was in office and the charter was written that way”  Jim Crouse remarked.  “Actually I’m waiting for an attorney general’s review on this.”  In seeking some explanation he politely repeated his question.  After moments of awkward silence Mayor Fisona said “Lewis.”  As Jim turned from the elected officials to look at the professional staff, he remarked “I guess I have to address him.”  The town administrator responded, “The ordinance was adopted in accordance with the charter.”  That went back and forth few a few minutes, without any conclusion excet that the town didn’t hold a public hearing.   

“Okay, Okay. it’s a question we’ll get an answer to,” the former five term mayor said as he turned back to the elected officials and made a plea for them to just listen to people.   “If people could just ask questions, even if it’s done informally, and have an opportunity they could feel like they had some input before it’s voted on.  It would make a healthier environment for all.”

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3 responses to “Elkton Board Finally Approves 1st of 4 Utility Rate Hikes

  1. Go get um Jim. This town made a big mistake by not voting you in as a commissioner. Hopefully the AG will get involved and convince these guys that they just can’t do as they please

  2. Steve: Jim also made an critically important point about opening up the process to citizen input. After the exchanges about whether a public hearing was required for the substantial utility rate hikes, he said OK we’ll find out (meaning the legal opinion). But after that he said even if its not required why not just open up the process and let people have some input. All you have to do is listen to what they want to say. It makes them feel like they’ve had some input, he continued.

    How logical is that and how appropriate if you want to have open government, the way they said they did when they were arguing about facebook and twitter.

    The way Elkton runs its proceeding now citizens don’t have the opportunity to provide feedback to the board until after they’ve approved or denied an action, in most cases. That is so counterproductive since they’ve locked themselves into actions. Citizen input might actually help them make more informed decisions. If nothing else they could measure the resistance and form arguments.

    This is exactly part of the problem with the Sr. Housing approval. They rushed it through as citizens seated in the audience wondered what in the heck was going on. They could tell it was something big, and unsual but because they d0n’t describe their actions in sufficient detail, the audience really won’t know what was going on. You could hear the mumbling and growing concern and then after they said they approved it the gloves came off. Someone even remarked to them at the end of the meeting, we’re sitting here and don’t know what you just did. But they could tell they gave away $150,000 from the utility rate fund. But at that point, it was too late. I’m willing to bet that if they’d know how much trouble that was going to cause, they would have proceeded more carefully.

    I also wonder why they didn’t listen to staff’s warning about how these actions were going to violate their own ordinances and regulations. Then when the citizens kicked back and started legal actions, they had to catch up and pass laws long after the fact. Wouldn’t it be better to chance your laws first and then take the actions, if you wanted this project to happen. The town, its officials and affilated nonprofits would look much better in that professionally managed approach to things. I do think that if they’d had citizen remarks, they would have at least as a minimum proceeded more cautiously and perhaps taken another path. But here they are again, repeating the practice of restricting citzien input that continues to worsen as they tighten up on rules.

  3. Pingback: Commentary: Elkton — This is Not How Open, Transparent Goverments Behave; Some Gentle Reminders for Elected Officials | Someone Noticed

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