Newcastle Mayor Steve Sosinski can't remember the last time so many people in his town attended a town hall meeting, and though at points frustration was aimed directly at him, he was pleased with the outcome.

Several topics, some hotly debated and others more calmly discussed, graced the docket of the Newcastle Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, March 25. Almost 50 people showed up by 7 p.m. to discuss issues pertaining to the city of 585 people in what was loosely set up as a mayoral debate prior to the May 10 city election.

Sosinski said he was happy with the turnout, as he was expecting only 20 or so to attend.

“This many people that are that interested in the city, I think that's great,” Sosinski said.

Mayoral candidate Gina Maxwell said during the meeting that one of her primary actions as mayor would be to reject any salary or utility credit, including a city-paid cell phone bill. The assertion was in response to the current Newcastle policy allowing city council members and city employees a water and sewer credit paid by the city, as well as a $500 monthly salary allocated to Sosinski, and was followed by applause from several in attendance.

Sosinski replied that the utility credit was already in effect when he became mayor, and his salary was voted in by the council.

“A lot of people have questions concerning the free water issue with the city council,” Maxwell said in an earlier interview with the Graham Leader. “I want to talk about the budget, because we're not making money as a city and we should be. Eventually we're going to have a rainy day.”

Maxwell explained that she is in favor of allowing city workers to keep the utility credit. At a recent mid-March Newcastle city council meeting, the council passed a motion to eliminate free trash service from the utility credit, keeping the water and sewage service, but Councilwoman Melba Quaid, who was in attendance at the town hall meeting, maintains that wasn't enough of a concession.

“I don't get mine (utility credit), and I don't think it's right that anyone else does,” Quaid said after Tuesday's meeting. “It's too small a town, and the meetings aren't that long (for city council members) to be getting 80-something dollars a month.”

Sosinski said during the meeting that he could not affect a change in current policy until the end of his term, but that he is willing to compromise with however the city council decides to move forward.

“If there's such discontent about it, then maybe there should be a reversal of this credit,” he said.

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