PHOENIX &

Voters apparently will get a chance to have their say on a $20-per-month surcharge on their water bills.




Steve Brown has gathered 360 signatures to refer the surcharge to voters &

about 100 more than the minimum required to put the question on the ballot in a special September election.




Brown, an Ashland police officer who lives in Phoenix, said he started the referendum because the City Council's approval of the fee was, in effect, "taking away residents' right to vote."




The Council approved the monthly fee to address a $330,000 shortfall in the city's general fund. If collected for a year, the monthly charge would raise some $469,000 to help maintain police and fire department staffing and for capital improvements.




Brown said Thursday that he had received a similar message from residents who supported the surcharge and those who did not, namely, that city officials should have taken the matter to a vote.




"I got signatures from folks that were for and against the surcharge and they all basically said, 'We didn't want the council to take our money without asking us to vote'"




Brown said the surcharge was a "poor solution" to the city's financial crisis.




"My opinion is that the surcharge is not going to solve the problem. It's just their effort to continue to take our money and spend it as they see fit " and so far they've not spent our money well."




City Manager Dale Shaddox said the budget committee has been struggling to build a budget for the coming fiscal year (which begins July 1) without adequate income to maintain city services or any sense of whether the surcharge will survive.




Shaddox, who resigned effective June 25, said the referendum "places in jeopardy expected revenues for next year. We had thought, originally, we could go ahead and collect the surcharge amount on water bills for July, August and September, but our city attorney has advised we could not even do that.




"Even if the surcharge ordinance survives the referendum ballot, we would have already missed three months revenue, or 25 percent," Shaddox said. "So, at best, we lose 25 percent of what we thought we had. At worst, we are without needed revenues and we start to look at some serious cuts."




After Tuesday's election, in which voters rejected a measure to fund county libraries, Shaddox said support for the referendum was questionable.




"After seeing the library measure voted down, we're seeing that the mood of voters is not to support these needed revenue enhancements," he said. "It's very concerning."