Bargersville Water Fire System Fee Challenged
On June 12th a petition for redress was filed with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) regarding the Bargersville Water Utility Fire System Fee that appears on each monthly billing. White River Citizens United (WRCU) organized and funded the petition effort. WRCU utilized the recent state law that grants the customers of municipal utilities who live outside municipal boundaries, and where those municipal utilities have opted out of IURC oversight, to petition the IURC for rate reviews. The law allows some limited differentials in rates, but no more than 15%. Prior to this law, a customer’s only recourse was to file a lawsuit, a task made extremely difficult and risky by the laws governing the process.
One-hundred-fifteen outside customers signed the petition, prepared with the help of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, and filed according to the new law. The IURC has 120 days to rule on the petition. Bargersville must file a written response by July 2nd, WRCU can supplement its documentation by August 6th, and an IURC hearing has been scheduled for September 4th. The IURC has the power to direct a solution to the dispute, and the utility has the full burden of proof that its actions are non-discriminatory, reasonable, and just. The petitioners’ basis for engaging the IURC is that the monthly fee paid by outsiders is not the same as that paid by insiders, nor is it within the 15% differential leeway.
Bargersville residents pay for this service via their property taxes. However, tax roll information indicates that, even accounting for a 15% difference, on an annual basis about 20% of property owners pay less total tax than outsiders pay in this fee alone. Consequently, petitioners believe the fee is discriminatory in its impact. Even if every penny of those taxes were directed to the fire system fee, there would be a shortage of funds and so those 20% of residents don’t contribute to the operation of their town for police protection, street maintenance, parks, etc.
This is a new law and this is the first filing under it. The IURC will to review this carefully and WRCU representatives will provide testimony as needed.