The New Windsor Town Council has decided to raise the rent on the town's Water Street property for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Although a binding vote was not taken, the council decided at its work session Thursday to increase the monthly rent from $35 to $50, including utilities, on the 5 acres of meadowland along Little Pipe Creek. The property is rented by Councilman Kenny Grimes.
Former Mayor H. Cassell Roop tried to make Mr. Grimes' council position an issue when he complained about the low rent on the property and the free water being used for the councilman's small herd of livestock.
"The tenant right now is a councilman, but that does not make it an issue," said Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.
The question is, the mayor said, "Is the rent adequate to what the tenant is receiving?"
Councilman Grimes, who did not attend Thursday's work session, has rented the property for nearly two decades, including during Mr. Roop's 1985-1989 mayoral term.
The councilman has been paying $35 monthly rent on the property and $5 per month for electricity, and has been receiving town water free on the site for at least 17 years. His animals use the creek for water most of the year.
Councilman Grimes, head of the town's streets committee, has maintained the grounds himself, a job town officials would have had to pay a contractor to do if the property was not rented.
At the December council meeting, Mr. Roop suggested installing a water meter on one of the two buildings that Councilman Grimes leases on the property, so he could be billed for using municipal water.
Mayor Gullo and the council solicited estimates for purchasing and installing a water meter. Mayor Gullo said the meter would cost $600, including labor to install it.
If the town installed a meter on the property, Councilman Grimes, who doesn't use much town water for his livestock, would never pay more than the basic $15 per quarter for 10,000 gallons of water, or $60 annually, the mayor said.
"At a base rate of $60 a year for 10,000 gallons used each quarter, you'd pay for the meter in 10 years," Mayor Gullo said.
But Councilman Ronnie Blacksten said there would be no accurate way to measure how much town water Councilman Grimes personally uses at the site, because "we wash off town equipment and vehicles down there, too."
The council agreed to include all utilities in the revised rent, but debated several minutes before concurring on the rental fee.
Councilwoman Rebecca H. Harman first suggested that the council should raise Councilman Grimes' rent by $5 a month instead of $15.
But Ms. Harman and Councilman James C. Carlisle, who had suggested an amount lower than the $50 proposed by Councilman Terry Petry, later agreed with other council members in the tentative vote.
The council will officially vote on the rent at its next regular meeting Feb. 2. Councilman Grimes will abstain from the voting, Mayor Gullo said.