There are a handful of things in this world that regularly get people’s blood pressure up. Fidget spinners. Avocado toast. Anything surnamed “Kardashian.”
But in Whitefish, the trigger word was “water.”
A citizen in a plaid shirt planted herself at the podium and gazed steely eyed at Public Works Director Craig Workman. “Are you thinking about implementing any of the new technology in wastewater treatment?” she inquired.
“Yes, we are,” he replied. “We’ve begun the design of the wastewater treatment plant upgrades.”
“Including metals and microbes?” she pressed the witness.
“Yeah, metals are one of the parameters–”
“Is that being inspected now?”
“Are you adding more sensitivity?” she interrupted.
“Well, the detection is done at the laboratory–”
“Which is here?”
“It’s in Kalispell.”
She collected her notes and concluded the interrogation. “Thank you…for now.”
The mayor and council sat quietly during this aggressive questioning. A cheerful and somewhat nervous new resident smiled from behind the microphone.
“I’m a single mom of a three-year-old boy,” she greeted the council. “My first month, the water bill was fairly low. In June, my water bill was $100. In July, my water bill was $437.”
She turned to Workman and wondered, “do we really need all of these enhancements going into a water treatment plant?”
“I’ll allow this question,” Mayor John Muhlfeld firmly interjected. “Just for the audience, this isn’t an opportunity for Q&A between the public and our staff.”
Well, well, what a fine time to start enforcing the rules!
A man in a t-shirt and shorts took his turn at the mic. In a slight British accent, he winced while calling attention to his casual attire. “I just want to apologize for my lack of professionalism.”
“I’m $200,” he referred to his own water bill. “I just can’t keep up. I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but my family is hurting. I have a family of five who shower once a day and I put pressure on the boys to take short showers.”
He grimaced deeply while staring down the bridge of his nose through glasses. “My lawn is brown. When I water the fruit trees, I feel guilty because I see money running into the ground. I’m hurting.”
Councilor Richard Hildner, himself touting a large family, smiled faintly. “I don’t know how you get around that other than you turn off the hot water and they get a cold shower!”
He added, as a glimpse into his own parenting style, “having had three teenagers at home all at once, I know what you’re up against.”
At this point, Councilor Andy Feury glanced up from his computer. “I’ll save you a trip to visit Craig,” he hollered to the single mom who had spoken earlier.
“Your usage in June was 6,000 gallons. You used 32,000 gallons in July. And you don’t have a sprinkling meter, so you paid sewage charge on an additional 26,000 gallons of water. That’s why you went from $100 to $400.”
Wow, that was some speedy research! Now do me! How many gallons did I use?!
“I would like to see,” plaid-shirt-lady announced during a reappearance at the podium, “some pencil-and-erasure math on the operating costs. It’s the one area where maybe there could be some tightening of the margins.”
If by “tightening the margins” you mean “policing teenagers’ shower length”–tighten away.
And that really was all…for now.