Originally created 07/14/01

Residents plan class-action suit over storm fee



A group of residents still stinging from a monthly fee for stormwater runoff is suing Columbia County over the "rain tax."

Donald L. McLeod, R.E. Watkins Jr., Charles E. McLeod and George Fuller Jr. are seeking class-action status for the suit, which says the county is providing no service for the monthly fee.

Class-action status would simplify handling of the case: The court could handle all the plaintiffs at one time, and other residents who also oppose the utility could join the suit.

"This charge, the stormwater utility charge, is a tax upon my real property," Donald McLeod said. "When you charge someone a 'fee,' you must provide a service for that charge."

The suit says the county is not charging the fee to all residents and that the fee is not based on the value of property.

The group is represented by the Augusta law firm Tucker, Everitt, Long and Brewton.

The suit seeks to have the fee declared illegal and the return of any money with interest, Donald McLeod said.

Columbia County began charging a monthly fee for stormwater work, dubbed a stormwater utility, late last year. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface - anything water does not seep into - on a piece of property.

The utility is geared toward raising money to help control flooding along Reed Creek and other areas. The billing area includes about 20,000 property owners in Martinez and Evans and near Grovetown.

In January, a group of residents began meeting to discuss ways to fight the fee; they considered a lawsuit a last resort.

"When we first talked about a suit, no one wanted to be the 'bad guy' and file," Donald McLeod said. "My question is this: After a citizen has done everything possible to get something our elected officials have done corrected, something we believe is illegal, and they refuse to discuss that problem with you, what choice do you have?"

A lawsuit represents one side of a dispute. Columbia County has 30 days to file a response.

Jim Ellington - an attorney with the county's law firm, Hull, Towill, Norman, Barrett and Salley - said the county plans to "vigorously" fight the suit.

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.