Christian school sues Ore. town over utility bills

ROSEBURG, Ore. — A Christian boarding school has filed a discrimination lawsuit against a Southern Oregon town that charges tax-exempt organizations a premium for water and sewer service.

The lawsuit argues that the city of Canyonville has no basis for charging tax-exempt organizations such as public schools and churches twice the going rate for water and adding a surcharge for sewer service, the Roseburg News-Review newspaper reported Monday.

Officials at Canyonville Christian Academy say the overcharges amount to about $200,000 since 1988, which is as far back as its records go.

The boarding school has about 100 students, a majority from outside Douglas County and from foreign countries. They live in campus dormitories.

The school wasn't aware of the policy until a broken water pipe sent thousands of gallons of water into the ground. Since sewer fees are tied to water consumption and the spilled water was not treated in the city's sewer plant, officials researched city ordinances before seeking a partial refund of the sewer fees.

"My first thought was, 'No, they can't do that. There has to be something wrong with that,'" said Roger Shaffer, a board member who also teaches government at the academy. "It doesn't pass the smell test."

City officials said they couldn't discuss the litigation, filed in Douglas County Circuit Court in Roseburg.

The higher fees apply to religious schools and churches, as well as public schools and other tax-exempt organizations. Water and sewer customers who live outside the city limits also pay the higher fees.

Nassau County on New York's Long Island recently imposed a sewer surcharge on tax-exempt school districts. The 19 school districts are fighting the fee on the grounds it amounts to a tax.

Canyonville Christian Academy has lobbied the Canyonville City Council since last June to change its policy, and in October, the school offered to accept a partial refund, in the form of credits on future bills. That offer was rejected.

"Our goal isn't to hurt the city," Headmaster Cathy Lovato said. "We just wanted the city to change its ordinance."

Share This Story