"You could have heard the screaming and yelling from across the street," said Loretta Cornett, a council member.
She said she left when the argument escalated to a heated back-and-forth between the mayor and a council member.
At issue was an ordinance increasing the surcharge for water customers, designed to keep the city from defaulting on past due bonds.
Council member Bill Hodges said that he wouldn't support the increase unless it was accompanied by spending cuts, including possible layoffs, a hiring freeze, a spending freeze on all unbudgeted expenditures under $100 and "any other cost-saving measures we can find."
"The mayor has a very different opinion about how we could get out of the budget mess," he said.
Mayor Jeff Harrison resisted some of the spending cuts, saying that laying people off wouldn't help the city's financial situation much, because the city would have to reimburse the state for unemployment pay to those terminated for a year.
"I know layoffs will not generate the savings they think," said Harrison.
The debated increase would raise the surcharge to water customers from $2 to $6.
Harrison said that the rate hike is necessary because the city has lost several big water customers in the past few years, including the middle school and a large mining company.
A payment on the bond for the city's water services was due on July 1, but the city could only scrape up part of what was due.
"A couple of council members refuse to accept reality," Harrison said.
"It seems like some of the members don't understand the seriousness of the problem; they think the problems will be erased with cutbacks."
If the city's water bond isn't paid, an administrator could be appointed to take over the water system and raise the rates. Harrison said that an increase by an outside administrator would probably be much more than the increase on the table.
"Of the Tri-Cities, we have the lowest water rate," Harrison said.
"We're struggling. We can't pay our bills. Something's got to give."
In Monday's meeting, frustrations over differences of opinion flared and voices were raised.
"I didn't kill anybody," said Harrison. "Sometimes it gets close."
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion," said Hodges.
At the council's next meeting on Friday, a second reading of the surcharge increase will show where council members stand on the spending and revenue issues confronting the city.
Cornett doesn't expect it to be a pleasant meeting, though.
"It is so bad now that when you walk in the door, you can feel the tension. There's no smiles, there's no laughter, in the Cumberland City Hall anymore."