Resident files suit against Shady Cove Water District

SHADY COVE — A property owner has gone to court, saying he shouldn't have to pay a fee to a controversial water district that isn't able to provide anyone with water.

In a legal filing made Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court, Medford attorney Michael Franell said a water fee from the Shady Cove Water District isnot a "fee for service" and that the district does not have the authority to charge the fee without providing such a service.

Franell is representing Norman Fincher, a Medford financial adviser who owns property in Shady Cove.

"The water district is a statutorily created body," said Franell, "and so, the only powers it has are statutory powers. We believe they did not follow the law in enacting the fee that they're assessing against the properties, and that they don't have the statutory authority for such fee."

In May, the water district passed an ordinance requiring a monthly $6 water service fee from the owner of each city lot that had been improved in any way and was not left in its natural state.

When bills began arriving in mailboxes late in the summer, angry residents wanted to know why they were being charged a fee when they weren't getting water.

The water district has had a rocky road since it was formed by voters in 2002. After failing to find financing to build a water system, the board voted in 2005 to hold an election to dissolve the district, but a new board changed course and continued to pursue options for developing a system. Shady Cove relies on about 1,000 wells for water and is the largest city in Oregon without a municipal water system.

In October, Fincher confronted the water district board with a long list of questions. He questioned the legality of the district and asked for operational details of how the district planned to bring water to the city.

Fincher said he hadn't heard anything from the district until this week.

"Of all things," he said, "Jim Collier actually called me Wednesday after I had already made the decision to move forward (with the lawsuit)."

Jim Collier, former president of the water district board and now the district's manager, said the district is providing a service by trying to obtain water for the city, and by providing office space, billing, accounting and contact with state, national and local public agencies.

"Until I can see the case, I don't have a comment," he said.

The complaint contends the district does not have authority to assess a fee unless it "is a fee for service, a tax or an assessment."

Franell said a tax or assessment would require a vote by residents of the district before it could be implemented.

"Since the District is not providing water service to any properties within the District," Franell wrote, "(and) does not have any contracts for the construction or acquisition of facilities to provide services and does not have an adopted master plan for the construction of facilities to provide services, the fee is not a fee for service."

Franell said the courts usually try to hear this type of case quickly, but with the current backlog, he said it's difficult to say how long it would be before it could be presented to a judge.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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