Lawyers in a stormwater fee lawsuit are awaiting a judge’s decision on whether the city of Lubbock’s status as a home-rule municipality allows it to use money collected from drainage fees to pay for street maintenance projects.
Attorneys for John Beck , president of Beck Steel Inc., and for the city appeared in the 237th District Court before visiting Judge Paul Davis, who heard arguments on the city’s motion for summary judgement.
John Beck sued the city in August 2015 to refund him more than $15 million in stormwater fees he said the city improperly charged him to pay for debts incurred by street maintenance projects, which he believes was an improper use of the fees.
A statement from the city reads, “The City appreciates the court for hearing this complex case and looks forward to a decision on this important matter which has been pending for two years,” a statement from the city reads.
Attorneys for Beck argued that under the Municipal Drainage Utility Systems Act, the city isn’t allowed to use drainage fees to pay for general obligation debt, which street maintenance projects fall under.
They are also contesting the city’s use of money from payment in lieu of franchise fees and payment in lieu of of property tax to pay for the street maintenance project.
Deputy city attorney Jeff Hartsell argued in court that Lubbock’s home-rule municipality state status allows it to charge drainage fees as it sees fit, unless expressly forbidden by the state Legislature.
Hartsell said that even if the judge disagrees with the home-rule municipality argument, the use of stormwater funds for street maintenance is proper because streets in Lubbock are designed to carry stormwater runoff. And because the Stormwater Utility uses public streets to drain water, the city can use money from franchise fees fund and payment in lieu of property taxes to pay for street maintenance projects.
Plaintiff attorney Joel Reese argued his client and other residents should be entitled to repayment because they faced a Class C misdemeanor charge if they failed to pay and were therefore under duress.
Hartsell argued that the city is absolved from refunding the fees if it loses because the ratepayers didn’t appeal the fees based on the arguments at issue in the lawsuit.
A ruling from Davis is expected by the end of the year.