The Edmond Sun

July 17, 2013

Guthrie water rates lawsuit heads to court

By Van Mitchell
Special to The Sun

GUTHRIE — The Guthrie City Council was updated Tuesday night about an upcoming court date for a lawsuit against the City of Guthrie concerning the city’s ability to raise water and sewer rates without a vote of the people.

The lawsuit will be heard July 31 in Logan County District Court by Judge Philip Corley.

Guthrie City Manager Sereniah Breland said a lawsuit was filed in 2009 against the city by former council member Patty Hazlewood and Karen Shandorff of Guthrie who contend the power to raise rates and fees should be decided in an election and not by the City Council.

Breland said the item was put on the council agenda to update the newest council members about the lawsuit.

“It was a lawsuit filed in 2009 and we are not going to court until July 31,” Breland said. “It’s going to decide whether the city has to go before a vote of the people to raise water rates. The only other city in the state that does this is Norman. This lawsuit is saying that we should have to go to a vote of the people to raise their water bill. We will probably know around Aug. 1 if we are required to do so.”

Hazlewood said in a previous publication she filed the suit in response to a new fee to pay for a water treatment plant. The City Council previously had voted to add an $8 fee to resident’s utility bill that would be used to help bring the city sewage system up to environmental standards.

Breland said the court has placed a hold on any rate increases until the lawsuit is finished.

Guthrie City Attorney Randel Shadid said Hazlewood and Shandorff originally had filed an initiative petition to be put on a ballot but that was ruled invalid so they filed a lawsuit instead.

According to the City of Guthrie website in-town residential customers pay a minimum of $9.72 for the first 2,000 gallons of water usage and pay a $7.50 water treatment plant fee and a $4.25 per month user fee. The $4.25 fee is for streets capital improvement projects that are annually performed.

Shadid said if the lawsuit ruling goes against the city he would recommend that the city appeal the case.

“The worst case scenario if we lost the city would hold an election to change the charter to require a vote of the people to change utility rates,” Shadid said. “The best case scenario is things would stay the same.”

Breland said not being able to raise water and sewer rates has put a strain on the city budget.

She said any repairs such as a water main break has to be paid for out of the city’s general fund and not the city’s enterprise (water and sewage) fund.

“I am having to use sales tax dollars to subsidize that account,” Breland said.