One thousand angry residents packed the Orange Grove Community Center Monday night, all with the same complaint, their high water bills.
The city recently switched from a flat rate to a per-gallon usage charge. In some cases, water bills have increased from $50 to more than $600.
Residents at the meeting say they don't want to be guinea pigs for a system throwing their money down the drain.
The town meeting focused on one issue alone, water.
"We're gonna solve this issue, and we're gonna do it as a team with your input. We hear your pain, as Clinton would say. I feel your pain," council member Chuck Teston said.
Some residents booed Teston for making that comment.
One citizen proclaimed during the meeting, "Make the bill even, from across town, from 30th street to North Avenue, all away around town." Cheers followed.
Many residents left the meeting after that.
"The same rates that you're paying in Orange Grove are the same rates people downtown have been paying forever," Gulfport manager Doug White said.
The per-thousand gallon charge is identical for all water consumers in the city. Now, almost all of the residents want the flat rate charge back.
"I'm trying to raise four kids with water bills like this. I'm trying to eat," another concerned citizen said.
Many residents argued that the city's meters are wrong or are not being read correctly. Gulfport resident Kathy Reilly was charged for 54,000 gallons of water on her last bill.
"I went ahead and contacted the makers of the meter and I had three people over there tell me there is no way my household uses that much water," Reilly said.
Because of poor notification and of possible mistakes, council member Richard Rose had this suggestion.
"You would continue to pay the $53.44 until August one, whatever the kinks are that we have in the system to be worked out, and at that point the meter is live," Rose said.
But that could be a problem.
"If it comes back to us adjusting everyone's bill back to the flat rate, that's going to be a nightmare for us to do internally, but that's what we'd do," White said.
One resident wanted that plan in writing and asked the mayor to sign her water bill.
But it's not the mayor who can make that promise; the city council needs to vote on it.
If you think your meter is not working correctly, you can call the water department and they will come out and check it. There is currently a $15 charge for that request.