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Water billing lawsuit ends in Eldon's favor

Water billing lawsuit ends in Eldon's favor

September 21st, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Miller County Judge Ralph Jaynes ruled this week in favor of the city of Eldon in connection with a 7-year-old lawsuit against the city over water billing.

Jaynes held a bench trial in August after denying a request from the plaintiffs for a jury trial.

The lawsuit began in 2011, when a group of 17 Eldon property owners upset about rate hikes filed a suit in Miller County Circuit Court. The plaintiffs claimed the city raising water and sewer fees violated the Missouri Constitution's Hancock Amendment because the rates and fees were used to generate revenue for Eldon's general fund without a public vote.

The property owners also railed against what they called the "vacant meter" ordinance, which includes leveling separate fees for every household in multi-residential or multi-commercial housing. The ordinance charges owners of multi-unit complexes served by a single meter a minimum fee per unit in addition to the usage rate.

Eight of the plaintiffs dropped from the suit early in the process. Five plaintiffs remain on the case, according to court records.

Joan Jungmeyer and her husband, Glen, owned several Eldon rental properties, including a duplex and four-unit strip mall, according to the petition. She claimed her water and sewer bill for the property nearly tripled after the ordinance passed. She was charged $41.79 for using 3,100 gallons of water during a one-month period in 2010, and about a year later was charged $167.57 for using 2,700 gallons — 400 gallons less — during a one-month period in 2011, according to previous News Tribune reports. She attributed the increases to the three new "virtual meters" added to a property, which received water service through one physical meter.

In his ruling, Jaynes said the city used the revenue collected through the monthly water and sewer billings to upgrade and maintain the water and sewer works system for the city.

"The plaintiffs continue to derive economic benefits from their properties," Jaynes wrote in his judgment. "The evidence shows the plaintiffs pass the costs of the water and sewer charges on to their tenants. The plaintiffs presented no credible evidence that these ordinances allowing these increases diminished the value of their properties or that they suffered damages, nor have they shown that these ordinances are unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious."

Jaynes noted there was evidence Jungmeyer and others had attended Eldon Board of Aldermen meetings to express their views before the ordinances were passed. Jaynes also said the plaintiffs have no protected interest in the water and sewer rates established by the ordinances, and there was no evidence to show the rates were unreasonable.