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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 20, 2017 10:02 pm

Opponents lose fight over sewer rate hike

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

A state appeals court has rebuffed a group of Hoagland taxpayers who challenged a decision to standardize rates across the approximately 40 jurisdictions of the Allen County Regional Water & Sewer District.

The taxpayers first appealed the district’s rate decision to Allen County Circuit Court, where Judge Thomas Felts last year ruled they did not establish the new rates were "arbitrary, capricious or contrary to law."

The rate opponents then appealed to the state court, but that court’s ruling, issued Friday, upheld the lower court’s decision.

"The losing party has the burden of persuading us that the (lower) court erred," the decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals states.

"Appellants have failed to persuade us otherwise." 

The appellants were Don Niemeyer, Jon Niemeyer, Brent Hegerfeld, Stanley Hegerfeld, Hoagland Holdings, LLC, Hoagland Holdings II, LLC, Premier Glass, Inc., and Hawk’s Nest Ridge Development Corp., represented by attorney David Hawk of Hawk, Haynie, Kammeyer & Smith of Fort Wayne.

They contended Hoagland residents always had been considered a separate entity and were about to pay off a bond for improvements to their own sewer system but were now unfairly being charged to subsidize other areas’ growth.

The court found that opponents cited no evidence contradicting the sewer district’s claim that the State Revolving Fund, which provides money for sewer projects, was concerned about rate disparities and might not provide funds in the future.

The court also found that even though the district, represented by Vincent Heiny and Robert Eherenman of Haller & Colvin, Fort Wayne, had considered the Hoagland service area’s costs and rates as separate from other service territories, "Nothing required the District to do so in perpetuity."

Last year, opponents proposed having Hoagland withdraw from the district, and the Allen County commissioners approved spending up to $15,000 on a study of the financial effects on the county of such a move.

That study is not yet complete, Chris Cloud, executive assistant to the commissioners, said Monday.