Leesburg Mayor Wants to Appeal Water Ruling

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said Tuesday she thinks the town should appeal a Loudoun County judge's ruling that the water and sewer rates paid by Leesburg's out-of-town customers are unreasonably high.

In a 19-page opinion issued Friday, Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne said the 100 percent surcharge Leesburg imposes on those customers is unlawful under the Virginia code. He wrote that when setting utility rates, a legislative body's decision "must be based on more than their own opinion regarding what they believe to be reasonable."

The Town Council enacted the 100 percent surcharge in 2005. A year later, seven homeowners and the River Creek, Lakes at Red Rock and Spring Lakes homeowners associations sued the town, launching the case that led to Horne's ruling.

The town has 90 days from the date of the ruling to enact a new rate structure or respond to Horne's opinion.

Town Council members discussed the case in a closed session Monday night and as of Tuesday evening had not announced how they would respond to the judge's decision. Some council members said they expected to get a recommendation from the town attorney in the next two weeks.

Umstattd said she thinks Leesburg met its burden of proof during the trial of the lawsuit earlier this year.

"I sat through all of the days of the trial, and I'm convinced that the town was absolutely right in setting the rates the way they did," she said in an interview. "I strongly believe that the town has to appeal this decision."

Town Attorney Jeanette Irby said Monday that town officials were "still carefully reviewing the opinion and determining what our best options are going to be."

She said she thinks the town proved that its rates were reasonable through testimony from utility rate experts and finance and utility department chiefs.

But Horne didn't think so.

The judge ruled that to be considered reasonable, the water rate surcharge on out-of-town customers would need to be reduced by 45.51 percent and the sewer rate surcharge by 36.53 percent.

Horne denied the plaintiffs' request for a refund, however.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company