CARBONDALE - Privatization of the city's water and sewer services wasn't on Tuesday's Carbondale City Council agenda, but a string of concerned citizens ensured the issue was the centerpiece of conversation at the council meeting.
Privatization of water and sewer operations was one of six options Mayor Brad Cole presented last month to help stem a budget deficit the city projects will reach $5.8 million in two years.
Reinstatement of a city-levied property tax, layoffs of city staff and an increase in the city sales tax or combinations thereof are included in the other proposals Cole put forward.
The council chamber's partitions were removed to accommodate an overflow crowd, and if audience sentiment is any indication of how the council intends to handle it, the water and sewer privatization matter might be sunk.
The first of eight speakers was greeted with whistles and a standing ovation after opposing the move. Resident Berardino Baratta was applauded for opposing the privatization and challenging the council to find alternative means of closing the deficit.
Resident Treesong, was met with warm applause for opposing the move, calling water a "treasure for all to share" before asking the council to explore other options.
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When council members were given their opportunity to speak on the matter, three of them directly opposed water and sewer privatization.
Joel Fritzler, Mary Pohlmann and Chris Wissmann disagreed with water and sewer privatization, but all praised Cole for presenting his list of options to the council. They said the list helped spark conversation on the deficit.
Fritzler advocated for a sales tax increase, saying because 75 percent of Carbondale's housing stock is rental property, mainly students and renters would be hurt by the property tax.
Cole reminded those on hand there is no proposal for privatizing the city's water for the council to act upon.
But that is not the case for a city-levied property tax, which the council must vote on at its next meeting if the members want to include it in next fiscal year's budget. As proposed, the property tax would amount to about $132 a year on a $100,000 property, Carbondale City Manager Allen Gill said when he introduced the proposal in October.
In other business, the council unanimously approved the demolition of nine vacant properties. The move is part of city efforts to fight blight, Gill said.
Tuesday's evening kicked off with happier news as councilwoman Corene McDaniel was awarded the Studs Terkel Humanities Award.
The city council is next scheduled to meet Dec. 15.