Just hours before city voters were due to go to the polls, Havre de Grace City Council members put off plans to raise city water and sewer rates by up to 20 percent, saying they hope to find other alternatives.
A plan for the rate was unanimously tabled by the six-member council during its meeting Monday night, even though some members expressed reservations about delaying.
Time is running out for a decision to be made, as the council has to vote on the rate by May 19, Mayor Wayne Dougherty said Tuesday.
Council members have said they are not eager to see a rate hike of 15 percent, in addition to a previously legislated 5 percent increase.
Councilman Bill Martin, up for re-election Tuesday along with Councilman David Glenn, told his colleagues during the council meeting that he may have some tricks up his sleeve for getting more money without resorting to higher rates.
"I feel that citizens – Havre de Grace citizens, Maryland citizens, U.S. citizens – are so used to government in a tailspin that citizens have been asked time and time again to solve the problems," Martin said.
He urged council members to support him in getting back to the drawing board, "because I have got some ideas."
"I am not for this ordinance, and everything is on the table," he said. "There is a way out, and we can do this."
The city has continued to fall short in needed funds as home construction continues to stall. Havre de Grace generates revenue from capital cost recovery fees, as new homes are built and developers pay connection fees.
Glenn agreed it is "tough" to pass that on to residents until the council has really passed on every other option.
Martin and Glenn are the only two members of the six-member council facing the voters in Tuesday's city election. Two other candidates are entered in the race to fill three seats.
Councilman Joe Smith, the other member whose term is up this year, decided to run for county council instead. The terms of the other three members, Fred Cullum, Randy Craig and John Correri, aren't up until next May, as is the mayor's.
Cullum was surprised Martin suddenly mentioned other alternatives.
"I haven't heard anything about proposed remedies other than what's being presented," he said. "I don't see how by not passing this now magically something's going to happen to correct the situation… where we don't need to have a rate increase."
Cullum noted the council has had three budget work sessions and discussed all types of options.
The council "can't just keep kicking the can down the road," he said. "We have to pay the bill now."
If the city defaults on its debt payments, "what happens?" Cullum wondered, adding Havre de Grace could lose its bond rating, which would affect is ability to get low interest rates.
"It's serious business. We have to take action and we have to do it," he said. "I don't like it but we have to do a lot of things in life that we don't like."
Correri said he "would hate to see us vote this down."
He said everyone had "good points" and thought Cullum "put it pretty squarely in front of us."
"This is the hard part we have to do sometimes," he said. "I'm willing to sit and listen to what a proposal is but I haven't heard anything more than what I heard here tonight."
Dougherty said Tuesday the decision to table the vote had nothing to do with city politics.
"I think it was a good move. One of the council members said he had other things he had been exploring," he said.
"It's a lot of money we are talking about," he said, noting the council will be meeting on May 14 to discuss the issue.. "It should be an interesting workshop."