columbia water, sewer

Columbia resident continues fight against city’s water, sewer transfer policy

dhinshaw@thestate.comJanuary 19, 2014 

Joseph Azar

C. ALUKA BERRY — Buy Photo

— A Columbia man is appealing his loss in circuit court of a 2011 case challenging the city’s use of water and sewer revenues for general purposes.

Judge Thomas Cooper of Camden ruled in the fall that state law does not prohibit the city from using surplus water and sewer revenues for other purposes. A notice of appeal was filed earlier this month.

The case initially was brought by city activist Joe Azar, though it now names only city resident Frank Cumberland Jr. as the plaintiff. He is represented by Columbia lawyer Dixon Lee.

The case centers on whether state law allows the city to use some $4.5 million a year in water and sewer revenues for general city services. Additional revenues collected from roughly 137,000 water customers and 70,000 sewer customers fund the city’s economic development activities.

Cooper ruled nothing in state law prohibits the city from a broad use of its profits.

The case seems to take on greater significance as Columbia’s utility system ages, potentially forcing City Council to raise rates to cover a $750 million upgrade of the sewer system over the next decade.

Improvements are being required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to halt the release of raw, untreated sewage into area creeks and rivers.

The city is represented by Mullen Taylor and Tommy Lydon with McAngus Goudelock & Courie.

The case seeks to restore millions of dollars transferred from the city’s water and sewer fund in recent years.

Azar was excluded from the case because he lives in a condominium and, therefore, does not pay a utility bill in his name. Richland County tax activist Michael Letts also was excluded because he is not a city resident.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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