Landowners file lawsuit over sewer district

Dawson County misled the public and should not be allowed to assess fees on certain lands within Metropolitan Sanitary Sewer District No. 1 according to a lawsuit filed against the county by 13 affected landowners.

Scott Bollwitt et al v. Dawson County was filed in Dawson County Seventh Judicial District Court recently.

Court documents say that representatives of 13 parcels of land have been unfairly assessed fees by the sewer district despite being assured they would not be liable.

“None of the Plaintiffs have ever used any of the wastewater facilities of the Defendant District, or any other service or facility of the Defendant District,” the summons reads.

The landowners allege that because the county provided assurances they would not be affected by the creation of the sewer district in 2014, they did not lodge a protest to its creation.

“Plaintiffs relied upon the representations and omissions of the Defendant County and its engineer by failing to take advantage of the extra 30-day period to object to the creation of the district,” the document says. “It would not be for years that the truth of the matter was learned and by that time, the time allowed to object and protest the creation of the district had expired.”

Specifically, the plaintiff’s say county officials repeatedly stated the new district would only affect “current” or “existing” users of the pre-existing rural special improvement districts 10M, 31M and 10SLM, all of which involved parts of the sewer and wastewater system in West Glendive.

The court documents say creation of the sewer district through the consolidation of the three old RSIDs was described as an “administrative issue” by the commissioners during a public hearing on May 20, 2014.

Once the district was formed and infrastructure constructed to connect with Glendive’s new wastewater treatment facility, county officials informed residents of the district that state law required them to assess fees on all property within the boundaries of the district, regardless of user status.

“Under the new Metropolitan Sewer District, the Defendant County, through its Commission, renounced these understandings, and in something of a bait and switch, claims the right to assess all lands within the boundaries of the District under the County’s ad valorem taxing authorities, regardless of whether the owner of any such tract uses any wastewater treatment services or indeed owns any lands that are likely to need any such services,” the document reads.

The suit asks the court in part to “adjudge and declare that Defendant County is estopped from enforcing the proposed rates associated with the new district.”

It also asks for judgment that the collection of any fees is without statutory authority and illegal and for payment of the plaintiff’s costs and attorney fees.

On Wednesday, April 4 the Dawson County Commissioners held a special meeting to discuss litigation strategy. On the advice of Dawson County Attorney Brett Irigoin and Bozeman-based outside counsel Susan Swimley, the commissioners voted to close the meeting to the public.

According to Swimley the information she planned to share with the commissioners would involve the strengths and weaknesses of the case and discussion of the matter in a public forum could have a detrimental effect on the county’s case.

Reach Chad Knudson at rrpub@rangerreview.com.

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