BLANDBURG - Thursday evening's Reade Township Municipal Authority heated up quickly, with the meeting's chairman often refusing to answer residents' questions and eventually using his gavel to silence the crowd.
About 40 people attended the meeting looking for answers about their monthly rates, water pressure problems and issues with the municipal authority's finances. Bob March was the first to speak during public comment and used his time to accuse board members of unethical behavior, covering up work on the system and environmental violations.
His comments were accepted without response.
Then, Laurie Wagner asked Chairman Supervisor and board member Tom Hollis whether the authority thought it was acceptable that employees showed up to her house without warning to change a meter.
"We didn't even know you were coming to do it," she said.
Hollis said meters were being replaced 50 at a time and added that employees acted properly by waiting to be invited inside. Wagner protested that it was her son, not the homeowners, who gave workers permission.
Finally, board member Barb Rickard stepped in, explaining that workers showed up because they had completed installations ahead of schedule.
"They were trying to save some time and started knocking on doors," she said. "I'm sorry it was inconvenient for you."
Wagner said she accepted her apology and added that it was better than Hollis' answer.
Hollis was on the defensive for most of the meeting, although he took one opportunity to blast the board's former chairman when RTMA Manager Jim Scott explained that the authority had only been in the black twice in the last seven years; Scott said he believed one case was a fluke and the other month was only profitable by a few thousand dollars.
Hollis then pointed to Jim Krause, now chairman of the Glendale Valley Municipal Authority, and told him those years of debt occurred while Krause was the head of the RTMA.
Glendale Valley is a bulk water customer of the RTMA.
"I've been out of here 10 years, so don't blame that on me," Krause shot back.
Scott also took time to explain the rate increases to customers, often pleading with them to give RTMA a chance to change course.
"When I had looked at the numbers [in November] ... the cash-flow was negative $40,000," he said.
Rates went up 5 percent in October, and another 12 percent in January. The base rate also went up $4, and the gallon rate went up $1. The rates should have increased more, he said, to make up for the several years when expenditures exceeded revenue at RTMA.
He said no one should be happy with where the rates are, but if the authority had done nothing, officials would have had to sell RTMA within three months.
"It was bad," he said, and added that he hopes to be able to bring rates down in a few months when he has a clearer picture of the authority's finances.
Some residents took advantage of pauses in discussion to call for a federal investigation. Others grumbled when Hollis answered some residents' questions and not others.
At one point, March interrupted Hollis after a vote passed on an agreement between RTMA and the Glendale Valley authority, in which Glendale Valley authorized RTMA - and in some cases, might require RTMA - to shut off water service to delinquent customers.
Rickard noted after the meeting that RTMA may decline to shut off water in certain cases.
Hollis tried to make a motion to accept, and later tried to second a motion to accept, approving the agreement - a vote from which he should have abstained as a Glendale Valley board member.
Board solicitor Tim Burns told Hollis he was not allowed to vote on the measure, and when March questioned Hollis' ethics he slammed the gavel down multiple times, yelling at March to quiet down.
The board then moved into executive session to discuss legal and personnel issues. No action was taken.