Christian School in Ore. Sues City for High 'Discriminatory' Utility Fees
A Christian academy in Southern Oregon believes it has been overcharged on its utility bills for nearly 25 years.
For several months, the Canyonville Christian Academy has unsuccessfully tried to resolve its bill issues with Canyonville city officials, hoping to repeal the extra fees placed on tax-exempt organizations like their boarding school and also get at least a partial refund for their past payments amounting to an estimated $200,000.
Making no headway with the city council, which rejected the school's request for a partial refund and refused to repeal the fees, the CCA filed a lawsuit against the city last month in the Douglas County Circuit Court in Roseburg.
The lawsuit claims that the city had no "reasonable basis" to bill the school twice the water rate as other city water users and a surcharge for sewer service as well.
CCA believes it was being discriminated against due to its tax-exempt status, which excluded it from paying property taxes like other churches and public schools in the city.
"We've tried to talk with [city officials] a few times, [and] we've been trying to have some sit down meetings since last summer," Headmaster Cathy Lovato told The Christian Post over the phone.
She also explained that other entities have complained about the same issue as well, including the town's local Baptist church.
"I was speaking with the treasurer from our local Baptist church who apparently had approached the city about it over a few years ago over the same thing," Lovato said. "They were told pretty much the same thing: live with it or shut off the water."
The higher fees were purportedly the result of an ordinance created by the city during the 80s proclaiming that any entity in the town that was nonprofit or did not pay property tax was to be charged double the going rate for water and a surcharge on sewer services.
The school was not aware of the city's policy until it discovered a broken water pipe on its facility, which sent thousands of gallons of water into the ground, The News-Review reported.
The incident eventually led the school officials to research into water and sewer fees, which they discovered were double the rate of commercial users.
While commercial users paid anywhere between $30 and $1,014 per month, the school paid about $5,000 a month for its water and sewer services.
Though the CCA tried to lobby with the Canyonville City Council since last June, no change has been made on the policy still, thus resulting in the lawsuit.
Lovato revealed that city officials held an executive council meeting on Monday night, most likely to discuss the issue at hand. She was not clear as to whether the city had contacted their lawyer to schedule a meeting to resolve the situation.
Roseburg attorney Ronald Sperry, who is currently representing the CCA, did not respond to The Christian Post when seeking updates.
Janelle Evans, the city administrator and recorder, also did not confirm whether or not the city meeting took place on Monday.
"That was an executive session so that's confidential information," Evans told CP.
She also refused to comment on any additional information as well saying that they were currently in litigation.
Many of the nonprofits and property tax-exempt organizations that are being charged higher utility fees are religious in nature.
When asked if the city seemed to be discriminating against religious institutions, Lovato said, "Not specifically."
"The majority of the ones in town are religious institutions, but I don't know if it's specifically religious."