Emotions came boiling to the top during a Richmond City Council Candidate Forum Thursday night at the Farris Theatre.
First Ward candidate Robert Cooper had to hold back tears when addressing his main concern with the water and sewer rate increases that Richmond citizens have experienced the last couple of years. Cooper began speaking about his parents and their burden paying their bills when he became emotional. Cooper chastised council members who voted for an increase.
“Water and sewer rate increases have to stop,” Cooper stated. “The rest of the people that voted for the increase should be voted out of office. Anybody who votes for another increase should lose their jobs.”
Cooper’s opponent, Bob Bond, said he has spent the last three weeks going door to door listening to concerns and the rates keep popping up in those conversations.
Candidates were also asked about cuts to the budget. They were asked what would be cut first: services or infrastructure.
All of the candidates said they don’t support cutting services, but some said infrastructure has to be addressed or there will be no need for services.
“It’s a tough decision of what to cut,” Bond said. “With (infrastructure) you get growth, you get jobs and then you get your services. It’s difficult to have everything you want with the budget we have.”
“I’m concerned whether it’s an expense driven budget or whether it’s an income driven budget,” said Ward Two candidate Roger Kepple. “If it’s an income driven budget then why do we continue to be in the deficit?
“The city of Richmond is not growing,” Kepple added. “It’s reducing in size instead of expanding. Infrastructure is one reason why we’re not growing; a lack of working with the builders coming into town. We just have so many problems to take care of.”
Kepple said ultimately the citizens have to decide what they want and direct the city as to what to do. His opponent Beverly Gorham said she supports public safety but did say she sympathizes with people paying the high water bills. She stated that she did not vote for the increase.
Third Ward candidate Mike Wright said too much money is being directed from the water and sewer funds into the general fund for administration. He said more of that money needs to go into fixing the infrastructure.
“We need to use our water and sewer revenue to put back into the water and sewer systems,” Wright said. “Our public works guys don’t have any material to do the work with.”
One of his opponents, Kathy Garner, told the audience that fixing the system is going to cost money. She said one reason why lines are not being replaced is because much of the money goes every year to pay off the city’s bonds. She said if the city doesn’t find the money, fines will be levied against the city.
Garner also suggested cross training fire and police personnel to cut costs.
“It’s going to be a tough process and it’s going to be a process that makes a lot of people unhappy,” Garner said. “Instead of having police officers and fire officers, we might have what’s called public safety officers as a lot of small municipalities have turned to.”
Third candidate for Third Ward and current council member Tammy Folvarcik said she would not support cuts to public safety; however, she said water and sewer increases are a different matter.
“I can’t say I would vote ‘no’ on future increases,” Folvarcik said. “I would have to look at each situation that comes along.”
Unopposed Third Ward candidate Jim Dunwoodie said there are no services without infrastructure.
“If you don’t keep the infrastructure up, you’re not going to need the services,” he said. “If the fire truck pulls up and hooks to the fire hydrant, he’s not going to be able to put the fire out if he doesn’t have water.”
Fourth Ward candidate Terrie Stanley has campaigned against increases and said city staff should not be getting pay raises when people’s water is being shut off.
“We have city employee jobs that are unnecessary and there are quite a few of them,” Stanley said. “Without a proper foundation the house is going to fall. Right as we’re sitting here, beneath us the ground is crumbling. We are in big trouble with our water and sewer.”
Stanley went on to denounce the city’s street overlay program. She said new streets are being torn up to replace aging systems beneath them.
“With all of the increases that we’ve had, why hasn’t anything been done?” she asked. “Where’s all the money going? We have got to get to the bottom of it. Keep increasing. Keep increasing, but we don’t see anything happening. It’s taking too long to make decisions.”
Stanley opposes councilman Scott Marshall. He said making a decision between the two is tough.
“Do you pay your mortgage or feed your family,” Marshall said. “It’s a decision that I wouldn’t want to make by choosing one thing.”
Marshall defended the rate increases and said they are necessary to keep up.
“Those rate increases are to pay for what we’ve got going now,” he said. “We’re not generating enough revenue to even pay for what we’re supplying to you guys now.
“Without generating some income somehow, we’re not going to be able to fix these problems,” he added. “There’s so much expense involved. We have a plan and we’re trying to get to that point.”
Cooper did not agree with Marshall. He reiterated what he said earlier.
“How do these people face you at the Apple Market or Pointers Jewelers when they vote for increases?” Cooper asked.
Photo: Council candidates from left, Robert Cooper, Roger Kepple, Beverly Gorham and Mike Wright listen intensely as a Richmond citizen expressed his concerns with the city Thursday night at the Farris Theatre. (Photo by Dennis Sharkey/The Daily News)