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No outside opinion on utility rebate issue

By Staff | Apr 24, 2010

The state’s Attorney General’s Office has decided not to issue an opinion on whether the city should issue $4 million in utility rate refunds.
In a letter to Mayor John Sullivan from Assistant Attorney General Joslyn Wilson, she wrote, “Your inquiry concerns the authority of the city council to adopt a resolution which has the effect of amending an ordinance. This office will not comment upon the authority of the city council in the absence of a request by the majority of its members.”
The letter goes on to state the Office of the Attorney General will not comment on city council’s authority, and that the inquiry “involves action which has already been taken.”
Councilmember Bill Deile called the response strange on Friday, since the attorney general has commented on previous decisions by council.
He did say, however, that if the attorney general presumed that previous decisions were correct, then the city should not issue refunds.
“I’m content to live with that and not issue the refunds,” Deile said. “My thinking is, if what we did was good, let’s ride with that.”
Councilmember Marty McClain said he was pleased the city sought the attorney general’s opinion, which gave staff and council time to examine and think about what needed to be done.
He said transcripts from original decision to cap charges needs to be studied further.
“I think we need to look seriously at the transcripts and put some heavy consideration on the word ‘intent,’ instead of the real action,” McClain said. “Clearly two items were discussed, the cap, and the rate changes. When the resolution was brought back, they weren’t addressed separately, as I feel they should have been.”
At question is whether the city legally lifted a previous cap on water use billings as they related to sewer charges. The city has billed customers in excess of the cap, which some say was lifted with the council-approved rate increase. Others maintain council could not lift the cap, set by ordinance, via the rate resolution.