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Hike in rates irks residents:
Meeting minutes vanish

Tare E. Buck
Frederick News Post

Improper minutes of a May 24 meeting in which the town's leadership approved fiscal 2005 water and sewer rate increases were at the heart of lively debate at Thurmont's weekly meeting Tuesday night.

At issue was whether the town acted properly in setting the new rates' effective date retroactively to April 15 instead of July 1, which kicked off the newest fiscal year.

Residents complained that they were unaware the new rate would be charged during the April 15 to July 15 billing quarter, for which bills are sent out Aug. 1.

While the town's leadership did, in fact, discuss setting an April effective date at the May meeting, the town's minutes of that discussion include neither the April date nor the discussion that followed. The resolution passed that night with an effective date of May 24.

Tuesday night, the town commissioners voted in favor of a resolution making official the April 15 date, but not without hearing from several dissatisfied residents who said they did not know they would be billed retroactively for water they used before the rate increase occurred.

Several newspaper articles on the increase cited a July 1 effective increase date. They were incorrect, Mayor Martin Burns said simply.

But residents who addressed the board said they also received a written notice from the town and a public service message on their cable system citing a July 1 effective date. No record of the town posting anything to this effect is available, according to Town Clerk Richard May.

No resident could produce the letters they claimed they received, either.

May 24 minutes provided to The Frederick News-Post on Tuesday say the meeting began at 7 p.m. Two members of the public were present at the meeting -- Randy Cubbedge and John Kinnaird.

Following discussion on the May 24 increase, the minutes say Mr. Burns read the resolution into the record, setting an increase for water to $4.15 per 1,000 gallons and for sewer to $5.95 per 1,000 gallons treated.

The minutes also say that "without further discussion the public meeting was adjourned at 7:15 p.m."

However, this week the men all agreed that their intent was for an April starting date, and that discussion to this effect is available for public review in the town's audio and video minutes.

A look at the tape Wednesday revealed that the April date discussion did take place, but little explanation was offered Tuesday for the gap in the minutes.

Mr. May pointed to an addendum to the May minutes, but those additional notes were not adopted this week by the board, so they were not made officially available to the public.

Such oversights do not sit well with many residents. Many said they agree the town needs to increase its rates, but not in what they call a deceptive manner.

At one point heated debate between resident Robert Kerr and Mr. Burns prompted Commissioner Ron Terpko to ask Thurmont Police Chief Terry Frushour to escort Mr. Kerr out of the building if "things get out of hand."

"You must have different meeting minutes than I have," Mr. Kerr told the board. "Mine ends at page 4. Yours seem to end at page 5. ... Isn't it your responsibility to put out to the citizens what you've voted on?"

"Are you calling me a liar?" Mr. Burns retorted.

"I'm saying, what the town put out -- I'm not calling you a liar -- I'm saying what the town put out is not what you're reading from," Mr. Kerr replied.

"The reason the pages stop at four is Tracy Schur, the person who transcribes the minutes, stopped after we made the adoption," Mr. Burns explained. "Mr. May has on tape voice and on video the rest of the pages that were not put in because she transcribed what she writes in shorthand. You may get a copy of the tape and the video, which show the entire conversation. Mr. May informed me today that's what happened to the minutes and that's why they're cut off."

"How are residents supposed to be informed on what happens in this room if they can't make it to the meeting and they can't rely on what they got from the town office?" Mr. Kerr asked.

"I'm as frustrated as you are that you're upset here because this December we busted our asses working on this. We busted our asses," Mr. Burns replied. "Do you think I like to raise the rates that much? ... I will be glad to refund your rates. I will have Mr. May make a change and then I'm going to raise your rates to compensate it at the end of the year."

"Just make sure you give us adequate notice," Mr. Kerr said.

"It is totally obvious that the administration can be flawed," Mr. Burns said. "There's flaws to this. It's not a perfect system. We do our best. We fall short. I'm sorry for that. I really am. We do our best -- at little pay -- we do our best."

No refunds were approved on Tuesday.

The board passed resolution 04-8 with a 3-0-1 vote, with Commissioner Glenn Muth abstaining because of his absence at the May 24 meeting.

Mr. Muth questioned the legality of the minutes question, but no action was taken in response.

The town's next weekly meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31.

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