Drainage fee ruled invalid still showing up on bills

File Image. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

AUSTIN (AP) — Austin residents are still being charged a drainage fee that a judge ruled invalid a month ago.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum said the fee was invalid in June, after a 2009 lawsuit argued the city was unfairly charging residents in apartment and condominiums the same amount as those living in larger, single-family homes.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Robby Alden said he is considering filing another lawsuit. He said he wants Austin officials to remove the fee until it is changed to make it fairer to customers.

“The way the statute is written, the city doesn’t have the right to keep charging this fee unless they adopt a valid one that satisfies [legal] requirements,” Alden said.

The fee is levied on more than 300,000 customers and raises about $71 million for Austin, which uses the funds to pay for several programs, including flood warning systems and maintaining storm sewers.

The drainage fee is $9.20 for most residential customers and is $4.60 per unit for residents of condo or apartment buildings that have seven or more stories.

The dispute is over how the fee is set up. Other large Texas cities charge a drainage fee based on how many paved surfaces buildings occupy, but Austin charges the same flat fee to most residential customers, which means someone with a large house pays the same amount as a resident in a small apartment.

City spokesman Kyle Carvell said the city’s Law Department will likely seek more direction from the judge about how it must change the drainage fee.

The Law Department said in a written statement that the ruling doesn’t direct the city to reimburse customers, “nor does (it) order the city to stop charging the drainage utility fee.” The department said the lawsuit involves only how the fee is calculated.

The city has until Aug. 10 to ask for a new trial and until Oct. 9 to say whether it will appeal the judge’s ruling.

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