A judge has an invalidated the charge for storm-water control service of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District. He ruled that it a tax, not a fee, and violated the Hancock Amendment of the state Constitution.
The district should not have implemented the charge without first receiving voters approval, the judge ruled.
The district for now will continue to collect the charge which is 14 cents for each 100 feet of area that cannot hold water. Circuit Judge Dan Dildine of Lincoln County, who issued the ruling, said he would consider the continued collection of the charge in a second phase of the trial in the case.
The charge raised $41.84 million for storm-water control service in the district's fiscal year that ended June 30. The district had planned to raise the rate to 17 cents on Jan. 1 and expects to collect $48.3 million in the current fiscal year. The trustees have adopted a series of rate increases that would boost the charge to 29 cents by 2014.
In a statement, the district said it is very disappointed about the decision. "Funding is no longer available for storm-water services in the St. Louis community," the statement said.
The district's trustees will hold a special meeting later this month to consider how to proceed.
When the charge took effect, the district reduced to zero the tax rate of up to 10 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation for storm water service. It has authority to reinstate the tax rate. The district had charged sanitary sewer customers 24 cents a month for storm-water control service.
The charge took effect on March 1, 2008. In July 18 of that year, Dr. William Zweig filed a law suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court seeking its cancellation of the charge. He asserted that it violated the Hancock Amendment. Later the state Supreme Court transferred the case to Dildine.
The state Supreme Court has adopted a five-question test to determine whether a charge is a tax subject to a vote or a fee that does not require one. Generally the test requires that a charge must be based on service the agency provides users rather than be a blanket fee on everyone. Dildine said the district's charge failed all five questions of the test.
The charge "is not based on any provision of a service that property owners may accept, reject or use on a limited basis," Dildine wrote.