Lawsuit claims Bloomfield Twp. overtaxes water users

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Township — A township resident has filed a class-action lawsuit against Bloomfield Township for allegedly overtaxing residents’ water rates “for the injustice enrichment” of the township.

The complaint seeks to have assessments reviewed, corrected and a refund of “millions of dollars” in alleged rate overcharges “not used to cover the actual expenses of providing water to those customers but rather to fund the township’s general governmental obligations.”

The 18-page complaint is filed in Oakland Circuit Court on behalf of Jamila Youmans but represents an unknown number of the township’s 41,000 residents who the suit claims have been excessively assessed over the past years.

Youmans could not be reached for comment Monday and her attorney, Gregory Hanley, was unavailable. Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said the township has not been officially served with the long-anticipated complaint.

“Several months ago we heard a group was filing lawsuits against some municipalities and it was only a matter of time before they got to us,” Savoie said. “We sat down with our attorneys and reviewed our billing practices and determined everything we are doing is appropriate. We don’t anticipate any problems with this but will certainly be fighting it.”

The lawsuit is partly based on public fire protection charges not charged to the township which exceed the cost of water bought by the township from the city of Detroit and supplied through the Southeast Oakland County Water Authority.

“If they’re talking fire hydrants, how are we supposed to pay for them? Put water meters on them?” Savoie said.

The suit, assigned to Judge Nanci Grant, asks for a review of the practice and a refund of all rate overcharges and fire protection charges for those covered by the suit; a finding that the charges are unlawful and stop the township from imposing them.

David C. Thomas, a candidate for Savoie’s elected post, said Monday:

“The information cited in this lawsuit is the same information that I have been seeking from the trustees for almost a year. The public has a right to have this information available to them at all times.

“Local government needs to be transparent with their citizen’s tax dollars.”

Attorneys in the complaint won a $2.85 million settlement from the city of Birmingham in November over water and sewer rates in that city. The money will be distributed among ratepayers.

The Birmingham and Bloomfield Township class action lawsuits are based on local governments’ alleged violations of the 1978 Headlee Amendment in the Michigan Constitution.

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