Utility billing was one of the focal points of Monday evening’s Newcastle City Council meeting.

Specifically, the council was divided on a several-year-old policy allowing city council members and city employees a free credit for water, sewage and trash services.

The council passed a motion to eliminate the trash credit, keeping the water and sewage service, but Councilwoman Melba Quaid, also the owner of the Family Corner liquor store in Newcastle, said that wasn’t enough.

During the agenda item discussion, Quaid said that she didn’t believe the policy was officially voted in by the council at the time, and that there was no reason for any city officials to receive the free services.

The Graham Leader has submitted an open records request for any documents showing that the utility credit was officially voted into policy, but regardless of legality, the issue has so far proven divisive among council members and city employees.

Quaid is the only council member currently refusing the utility credit, and said that an average minimum billing rate of $80 over several years amounts to a sizable amount of money that could go back to the city coffers.

“You take the eight people currently drawing that amount of money every month for the last several years, and that adds up to thousands of dollars every year that could go back to the city so we don’t have to borrow money anymore,” the councilwoman said. “I feel that the city needs the money more than the people on the city council do.”

Some Newcastle officials disagree with Quaid, including Mayor Steve Sosinski.

“I came into office when this credit was already in effect, and to lose it now would be a burden,” Sosinski said. “I don’t know when it was voted in, and I assume it was legal, but I encourage people to get into public service, and at the same time, it’s a lot of work. A credit like this helps give public servants an incentive to do a better job.”

Read the entire story in this weekend's Graham Leader.