LEWISTOWN - Lewistown Borough Council President James Felmlee resigned at the end of a contentious Monday meeting that included the rejection of a sewage rate increase, the failure to adopt a 2013 budget as a result and one council member walking out midmeeting.
The council voted 4-3 against raising sewer rates with councilmen Lee Bollinger, Matthew Moore, Larry Searer and John Adams casting votes to reject the rate hike.
The council said the sewage rates are based on usage. Because the ordinance to raise sewage rates was rejected, overall taxes might have to be raised for everyone in the borough instead, the council said.
Electricity costs at the new federally-mandated wastewater treatment plant are going to more than double in comparison to the current facility, the council said. The council said if the borough had not gotten the grants it has already received, taxes could have increased as much as 50 percent because of the project.
The council expressed worry about figuring out where the borough will get the money to pay for expenses related to the new treatment facility.
After the board voted against raising the sewage rates, Vice President Russell Rager expressed great disbelief that the board wouldn't willingly raise the rates to pay for the plant.
"How do you expect us to pay our bills?" Rager asked.
Bollinger said he felt like the council was holding the citizens of the borough hostage.
"We raised the taxes last year too. We're raising the sewage rates. I hear on a regular basis that we are raising, raising, raising and the residents aren't getting anything," Bollinger said. "I understand we need to pay but I don't feel that raising the sewage rates is the way to go."
Rager said Bollinger hadn't answered his question, leading to a spirited discussion among the council members.
Bollinger then quickly stood up and left the meeting unannounced.
Rager and Borough Manager Connie Lucas agreed that they did not know how to proceed. Mayor Deb Bargo said that the only solution now is to raise taxes.
The council said if the borough does not pay its bills it could default on its loans, which could lead to state officials seizing control of the borough's finances, similar to what is happening in Harrisburg.
Rager said that Lewistown Borough's rates are still considered low compared to Derry, Armagh, Granville and Brown townships.
The sewage rate debate was the first of a series of dominos to fall Monday.
Since the rejected increase of sewage rates was part of the 2013 proposed budget, the budget could not be passed.
The board approved a temporary budget, with adjustments to be made before the end of the year. The board has until Dec. 31 to officially adopt a 2013 budget.
Currently the almost 80-page budget has no tax increases scheduled, but that seems likely to change.
If a budget is not passed the borough could shut down, Solicitor Jeff Snook said.
Even after all that, the meeting had a surprise ending, as Felmlee announced his resignation from the council.
"Tonight is my last meeting. I'm stepping down. I've had enough. I've put a lot of deep thought into this and tonight is my last meeting," Felmlee said. "Tonight's it. I'm done."
The council gave its thanks for Felmlee's 18 years of service and wished him the best.
In other business, the board approved a motion to go ahead with the 100 N. Walnut St. demolition project. The proposed cost of the project was less than expected so the council moved $25,000 into the streets program.
Lewistown Borough Council normally meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at its office in Lewistown. The council also approved a motion to add a second council meeting each month, which will be scheduled at a later date.