Sewer company to appeal Phoenix franchise fee

PHOENIX — Rogue Valley Sewer Services officials will appeal a circuit court judge's decision upholding a franchise fee imposed by city officials last summer.

Phoenix officials say work done by the sewer district costs the city $30,000 or more annually in street repairs. Sewer district officials dispute that, saying district crews don't damage city streets. They also argue a public sewer district is different than a for-profit business, such as a cable or telephone company, and should not be subject to a franchise fee.

Under the fee the City Council approved last summer, Phoenix residents' sewer bills would increase less than $1 a month. RVS immediately appealed the fee.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Philip Arnold ruled in favor of the city and the fee last week, and the RVS board voted Wednesday to appeal his decision.

RVS manager Carl Tappert said RVS will start collecting the money beginning Feb. 1 but will ask the appeals court to order the money held in an escrow account until the appeal is decided.

"If the court rules in our favor on the appeal, we would reimburse the residents of Phoenix the amount we have collected from them to that point," Tappert said.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto said he was pleased with Arnold's decision, but he expected RVS to appeal.

"It's been expected they would do this if the county judge said it was OK for us to charge the fee," DeBritto said. "And if I were in their shoes, I'd probably do the same thing."

Phoenix is the first city in the state to impose a franchise fee on a sewer district. DeBritto said he thought other cities would follow Phoenix's lead in considering franchise fees to cover expenses and boost revenues.

The City Council voted Tuesday that any funds collected from the fee be dedicated to street repairs related to sewer system improvements. The vote was 4-2, with council members Stan and Carolyn Bartell, a husband and wife, voting no.

DeBritto said, "It's going to the next level so we'll either get our money or we won't. We have nothing to lose at this point."

As for the city being the first in the state to assess a franchise fee on a sewer district, DeBritto quipped, "I guess we've got to be first with something."

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at

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