August trial date set in lawsuit over Eldon water rates

ELDON, Mo. — A lawsuit brought against the city in 2010 regarding water and sewer billing policies was set to go to the Miller County Circuit Court on May 1-2, but the jury trial has been postponed to Aug. 28-29.

The trial’s rescheduling came after the case’s discovery phase ended March 24 with the scheduled depositions of plaintiffs Dennis and Linda Kilday and Bill and Jean Koebel. Jean Koebel voluntarily dismissed her civil action against the city April 21.

The city of Eldon, as defendant, may also file for summary judgment by June 2.

The lawsuit was originally filed by a group of 17 Eldon landlords, although eight of those have since dismissed themselves voluntarily. The suit seeks to have the city remove what plaintiffs call the “vacant meter” and “virtual meter” ordinances and claims the city’s 2010 restructuring of its water-billing system burdens landlords inordinately and unfairly.

The 2010 ordinance at issue raised monthly user rates and began charging owners of multi-unit complexes such as apartment buildings, trailer parks and strip malls served by one meter a minimum fee per unit, where previously they had paid only for actual usage of the one meter.

“You’re paying for the metered water and the sewerage, and then they multiply that by the number of units in it,” said plaintiff Joan Jungmeyer in a previous interview.

A 2008 ordinance also enacted a minimum monthly charge for usage of 0 to 1,000 gallons of water, even for meters turned off at vacant properties. That charge is currently $41.93.

The city of Eldon, in its answer to the plaintiffs’ amended petition filed in December 2011, claims the rates are a reasonable means to fund its water system, citing a rate study conducted before enacting the ordinances.

“The rate study detailed the city had been operating its water and sewer system at a loss and that additional funds will be necessary to continue its operations and provide necessary future improvements,” according to the city’s reply filed in March 2012. “The rates as enacted apply equally to each class and are therefore not discriminatory.”

The issue resurfaced last November when the city passed new water and sewer ordinances making both tenants and landlords responsible for unpaid bills in order to collect outstanding charges that have accrued since the 2008 and 2010 ordinances went into effect. The November 2013 ordinances make landlords responsible for up to 90 days of unpaid water bills if the city is unable to collect from the tenant.

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