Eldon city officials have been in hot water over the new sewer and water rates.

Last week, the pot boiled over.

A lawsuit against the city was filed April 20 in Miller County Circuit Court on behalf of a group of property owners upset about the new rates.

Eldon city officials have been in hot water over the new sewer and water rates.

Last week, the pot boiled over.

A lawsuit against the city was filed April 20 in Miller County Circuit Court on behalf of a group of property owners upset about the new rates.

“Our new city administrator has created a financial pitfall and is putting some people in financial ruin with his inconsiderate leveling of fees, so there was no choice (except to take legal action),” said Joan Jungmeyer, who is one of the 17 plaintiffs suing the city, along with her husband, Glen. “It was a unanimous decision (to file the lawsuit) by what we refer to as the citizens’ alliance. They all decided it was the thing to do.”

Joan Jungmeyer said she felt confident the plaintiffs had a legitimate grievance.

“It was thoroughly researched. That’s why it took a couple of months for the attorney to make certain we had a solid case,” Jungmeyer said. “If I hadn’t felt like we had a winner, I would have never gotten involved in this. I’m not trying to make money; I’m not like the city. I’m just out for justice.”

Alderman Roy Herren, who was re-elected to represent Ward II in the April 5 election, said the lawsuit didn’t come as a surprise. The property owners’ group has been outspoken about its opposition to the city’s new billing structure for water and sewer rates – calling them unfair and discriminatory – and there had been comments made by members of the group that they were prepared to take legal action.

“It was not unexpected,” Herren said. “About all we can say about the lawsuit is we’re not going to talk about it, except through counsel. That’s about all we can say, but I expect there will be plenty to say after it shakes out.”

One of the property owners who joined the lawsuit against the city is Tim King, who is a new member of the Eldon Board of Aldermen. King, who was sworn into office April 12, owns a 52-site mobile home park. He defeated Ward III incumbent Tim Bradley in the April 5 election.

Bradley and Greg Sullens, who both lost re-election bids, were the two “Nay” votes when the board approved the ordinances for raising the water and sewer rates.

“I talked to their lawyers and I don’t think it will affect (serving on the board),” King said. “The only thing I can’t participate in is if they go into closed session and talk about it, since I’m part of the lawsuit.”

King, who served two previous stints on the board of aldermen, said the lawsuit could have been avoided if the city had reconsidered its new billing structure for charging for water and sewer service.

“If the city was reasonable and had acted decently this would have never happened,” King said. “They act like this is no big deal, but this is a big deal. The city of Eldon has been its own worst enemy.”

King and other owners of multi-unit properties have claimed the city’s new per-door charge is unfair and discriminatory.

“They can charge you by the door, and I don’t think that’s right,” King said. “That’s what the lawsuit is about.”

The plaintiffs in the case claim the city’s water and sewer rates are “excessive,” and they are asking the court to direct the city “to refund the overpayments it has received by virtue of the Vacant Meter Ordinance and Virtual Meter Ordinances that are in excess of its actual costs.”

“That’s what we’re asking for is damages for charging for all of these months and we’re not getting anything for it … they’re charging me for 15 doors and I only have two meters,” King said. “They have to figure out what’s fair and equitable for everybody.”

Other plaintiffs are: Dennis Bond, Robert Dunstan, Doug and Debbie Parkhurst, Kimberly Ruiz Tompkins, Dennis and Linda Killday, Michael and Kim Knopf, Virgil Clark, Bill and Jean Koebel, George Hardcastle and Delbert Hayes.

Bond, owner of Eldon Drug and other buildings in downtown Eldon, said he had hoped a lawsuit could be avoided, but didn’t see the property owners’ group had any other choice.

“I had been to both the city administrator and the mayor to try and get the thing rescinded, but that looked like it wasn’t going to happen, so that’s why the lawsuit was filed,” Bond said. “When we felt like we weren’t getting anywhere and we were backed into a corner, that was the alternative. … It was just a function of us getting frustrated.”

Even though the lawsuit has been filed, Bond would still like to see some sort of resolution to the conflict between the property owners and the city that would avoid more legal action.

“We would love for this thing to be resolved. It would be really good if we could get this settled and all the fees were fair across the board to everybody,” Bond said. “The suit can be dropped anytime. It could be settled tomorrow and everybody would be happy. But I don’t know what will happen. They (city officials) don’t seem too responsive.”

In response to the criticism from property owners, Mayor John Holland announced he would form an ad-hoc committee to review the city’s rate structure and make any recommendations to the board of aldermen. The five-member group met for the first time April 13, but chairman Larry LaDuke said, because of the lawsuit, the committee would be disbanded.

Audrey Smollen, an attorney with the Rosenthal law firm in Jefferson City, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the property owners’ group.

Among the list of allegations contained in the 25-page lawsuit against the city, the plaintiffs claim …

“The City imposed waterworks services rate increases without a vote of the people.” “As a result of the Ordinances, the City collected and continues to collect excess revenues, thereby causing Plaintiffs and other waterworks users of the City to sustain damages. “As a result of the Ordinances, Plaintiffs have suffered substantial economic loss due to paying egregiously excessive waterworks fees, leading to depreciation in value of property owned … and expansion and growth of business or residential concerns has slowed or stopped.”

The lawsuit claims the city ordinances changing the billing structure for water and sewer rates, which were approved by the board of aldermen in November and took effect Dec. 1, violated the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment “because the rates and fees have been used to generate revenue for the City’s general fund without a vote of the people.”

The language in the lawsuit uses terms such as “Vacant Meter Ordinance” and “Virtual Meter Ordinances.” While those terms are not included in the wording approved by the board of aldermen in November, the city ordinances raising the water and sewer rates allowed for “billing all doors” for multi-residential or multi-commercial users. The city’s new policy of assessing a per-door charge has been the main point of contention.

“That is the problem, that virtual is the problem, as there is no meter, no water, just a bill that replicates the real meter and the real usage,” property owner Joan Jungmeyer said. “That’s what they’re doing, they’re selling us virtual water. So we’re getting virtual water with a virtual meter, and it’s all based on virtual charges.

“But the bill is real,” she said.

Contact Weekly Standard Editor Jeff Burkhead at jeff.burkhead@lakemediaonline.com.