COA: All properties in stormwater district contribute to stormwater system

All property owners within a stormwater district “contribute to” the stormwater system, regardless of whether the property drains into the system, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Wednesday in a case that forces property owners in Richmond to pay a stormwater fee.

After the city of Richmond created a Stormwater District, it also created an ordinance that requires owners of parcels of land within the city that directly or indirectly contribute to the stormwater system to pay a stormwater fee. However, Mint Management LLC and J&MW Holdings LLC, which collectively own four parcels of land, determined that the runoff from their properties did not drain directly or indirectly into the stormwater system, thus exempting them from the stormwater fee.

The city moved from summary judgment in the ensuing court case, arguing that the language in both city ordinances and state statutes mean the fee applies to all users of the stormwater system.  The Wayne Superior Court granted the city’s motion, prompting the appeal in Mint Management LLC and J&MW Holdings, LLC v. City of Richmond, Indiana, 89A01-1603-PL-496.

On appeal, the property owners argued that the city had not proven that there were no genuine issues of material fact as to whether their properties were subject to the stormwater fee. But Judge Rudolph Pyle, writing for the Indiana Court of Appeals Wednesday, said the panel agreed with the city in their argument that the property owners were selectively reading the fee section of the ordinance and irrationally and disharmoniously interpreting the ordinance as a whole.

Under Indiana Code 8-1.5-5, the board of a stormwater management district, such as the one in Richmond, “may assess and collect user fees from all of the property of the stormwater district for the operation and maintenance of the storm water system.” Further, the city ordinance “includes language encompassing all property owners within the city’s boundaries,” Pyle wrote, thus clarifying that the fee is meant for all property owners that benefit from the stormwater system and that all property owners are assumed to reap that benefit.

Additionally, Pyle wrote that the property owners could “contribute to” the stormwater system even if their runoff didn’t drain into the system.

“Accordingly, it appears that the system benefits everyone who utilizes any sanitary sewer infrastructure, in addition to stormwater management infrastructure,” the judge wrote.

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