LEWISTON — The owner of a strip mall on Pleasant Street must pay a city-imposed storm-water utility fee, the state's highest court ruled Tuesday.
Robert R. Gladu had appealed an Androscoggin County Superior Court order from May that upheld the city ordinance, concluding the city acted properly in its efforts to collect the fee that helps pay for the city's storm-water management necessary to keep it in compliance with state and federal water quality regulations.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday affirmed that ruling in a 17-page decision. In it, Justice Joseph Jabar wrote that "the city's storm water assessment is a fee and not a tax."
Gladu had refused to pay the assessment since its enactment in 2006, claiming it was an illegal tax because it didn't meet the necessary criteria for a fee.
The city had cross-appealed, arguing the lower court had improperly reduced its attorney fees award. The high court upheld the lower court's ruling on that issue as well.
The city sued Gladu in 2010, saying he owned fees dating back to 2007 and also owed the city interest, attorney fees and a civil penalty.
The city began assessing storm-water fees on Gladu's property at 475 Pleasant St., which includes a small shopping mall and parking lot. Private storm drains feed the runoff into Hart Brook, a body of water that is part of the city's storm-water system, according to the court's decision. The city calculated Gladu's fee based on an aerial photograph of the impervious surface at that property.
Gladu never paid the fee, the decision said. The city said he owed $7,521.38 as of Feb. 9, 2010 in back assessments. Gladu also owed $1,447 in interest.
Gladu responded to the city's suit with a motion for summary judgment, arguing the city's fee was a tax.
The court ordered Gladu to pay $7619 in delinquent storm-water fees, $1,197 in interest and $825 in penalties.
Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy also awarded the city $2,539 in attorney's fees and $350 in collection costs. The high court concluded that Kennedy did not abuse her discretion in reducing the city's attorney's fees because she "was best able to observe the situation and allocate the attorney fees appropriately," the high court's decision said.