No pay, no penalty: Buckley suspends penalties for not paying $32 Fire Protection portion of water bill, for nowOct 5th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: News
The parish cannot turn off your water if you choose to not pay the $32 fire protection portion of your water bill. This ruling was made by Judge Robert Buckley in a September 25 order from his court. However, depending on how the parish proceeds, Judge Buckley, along with the other three parish judges, may not have further inclusion in the $32 fee court case—Peter Rupp vs. David E. Peralta, President, et al.
$32 fee hearing
As of press time, the injunction hearing for the $32 fee was scheduled for October 4 at 9:30 a.m. in front of Judge Buckley and sources indicated that the parish council was still considering whether or not to fire a motion to recuse St. Bernard judges. Earlier this week, the council’s attorney Leonard Levenson wrote a letter to Judge Buckley requesting that he and all judges of the 34th Judicial District Court recuse themselves from the bench, due to a possible conflict.
Levenson wrote that all residents of St. Bernard, including the 34th District Court judges are members of the class action suit and could stand to benefit financially should the fee be
Levenson could not be reached for comment. During an October 3 interview, Rupp’s attorney Henry Klein said that, “It is anticipated this afternoon that the council will file a motion to recuse Judge Buckley and perhaps all judges in St. Bernard” but is worried that a motion to recuse could put a wrench in the injunction hearing and set it back even further.
It was already delayed from its September 28 start date. “If the parish files a recusal motion, that’s going to result in a delay of finding the validity of the ordinance by several days and possibly longer,” said Klein. “Because if the parish loses the recusal motion, it will have the right to take that to the circuit court of appeals.”
As of a September 25 order from Judge Buckley, it was ordered that any unpaid “tax/fee delinquency” be suspended until after the hearing, Klein interpreted the order to mean that those who chose not to pay the fee shall not have any negative action taken against them prior to the injunction hearing.
“By entering that order, the court ordered that no adverse action be taken to declare anyones water bill ‘delinquent’ in the event the fee was unpaid,” he explained. Judge Buckley was not able to comment on the pending litigation.
Plaintiff in $32 fee law suit addresses council
The hot-button issue of the $32 fee took the spotlight again at the October 2 council meeting. During the public comments, Peter Rupp—who filed a class-action suit against the administration and council for their imposition of the $32 water bill fee on September 21—asked the council to repeal their ordinance.
“I am here to ask the council to reconsider their ordinance and repeal it, to stop the debauchery and save the taxpayers’ money,” said Rupp.
But in the middle of Rupp’s allotted two minutes of public comments, McInnis interjected to address inaccurate figures reported in the September 26 issue of The St. Bernard News, attributed to Rupp.
“Look at the numbers, Peter,” exclaimed a frustrated McInnis, who prepared a spreadsheet of 2011 vs. 2012 sales tax figures so the public could see the deficiencies for themselves. “You need to look at the actual collectives; you think we’re making this up?”
At last week’s EFC meeting, councilmen were slightly hopeful about sales tax revenues collected this summer from May to July as they seemed to approach the 2011 levels but acknowledged the numbers are unpredictable. The final count for August is still being calculated but Councilchair Guy McInnis said at Tuesday’s meeting that tentative numbers show August’s figures coming in at $500,000 less. Collected sales tax for August of 2011 was $1.6 million, and the tentative 2012
collections are coming in at around $1.1 million. “We’ve dropped off the cliff again,” said McInnis.
Additionally, Rupp suggested that the council and administration make the Fire Department its own political subdivision, to prevent it from being put on the chopping block in the future.
“I’m making a plea to the council to urge the parish president and administration to treat the fire department as a separate entity and remove their budget from the General Fund,
as if they were their own political subdivision.”