$32 “fee” case back in St. Bernard for trialSep 16th, 2013 | By Candace Griffin | Category: News
After much debate, a trial date is soon to be set to decide judgment for the case of Peter Rupp vs. St. Bernard Parish regarding the $32 fee that the Parish’s council tacked onto property owners’ water bills in order to cover a deficit in the 2012 budget.
This case also caused a stir when the Parish’s lawyer asserted that this case should not be heard by Judge Robert Buckley, who was assigned the case, claiming that since Buckley is a resident of St. Bernard Parish he could aim to benefit from the outcome of this case, therefore causing a conflict of interest. However, after moving up through several ranks of court hearings, the case will still be heard by Buckley.
In August 2012 the council voted to impose a $32 “fee” on Parish water bills by passing an ordinance, stating that the sales tax projections that formed the 2012 budget were much higher than those actually collected— leaving a shortfall in the millions.
Rupp is suing the Parish claiming that this “fee” is more like a tax, and unlike a true fee, should have been voted on by the people to be in acted otherwise, it is a violation of the law, and many have sited that the St. Bernard Parish Home Rule Charter mandates that any new tax be put up for vote before it is enforced.
Although St. Bernard Parish Government laid off many parish employees in response to the 2012 deficit, they said that in order to keep from laying off any more parish employees, specifically fire fighters, $32 must becollected on each water bill for the remainder of 2012.
However, in the beginning of November, after consulting with parish attorneys in Executive Session, the St. Bernard Parish council amended the agenda and voted
unanimously that the administration stop billing the $32 fire protection charge for the months of November and December on St. Bernard Parish water bills.
Before the November 4 budget hearings, Finance Director at the time, Beverly Gariepy informed the council that the administration was expecting to receive around $15.6 million in sales tax— up from a $15.1 million estimate.
Councilman Guy McInnis added that Finance’s estimates were conservative and according to his calculations, could actually be around $16.5 million. Additionally, the parish was also expecting to receive around $600,000 from a lawsuit settlement from 2004, pertaining to past due property taxes of a major landowner in the parish.
The initial ordinance imposing the $32 required the parish to review sales tax figures monthly to decide if the fee remained necessary; so the jump in sales tax revenue paired with the lawsuit settlement made the charge abolition possible.
Prior to a recent hearing regarding the matter, attorneys for both sides started hashing out exactly what the upcoming trial will entail.
“We’re basically just doing our homework right now and getting everything in order,” said Henry Klein, Rupp’s attorney. “Within the next 30 days we’ll be having a conference with the judge to a trial date for this case.”