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Judge says Paso fee hikes weren't taxes 

After three years of legal bickering, a San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge ruled on Oct. 30 that unhappy Paso Robles residents can’t file a class action lawsuit against the city for its alleged raising of taxes and calling the move a bump to water and sewer fees.

Resident John Borst first filed suit with two unnamed plaintiffs in 2009, claiming that increased fee schedules enacted in 2002 and 2004 were essentially taxes, because revenue from the flat rate charges would go toward building pipelines and covering the city’s share of Nacimiento water.

Under Proposition 218, “property-based” fees can only pay for the cost of a service. Anything above and beyond that is considered a tax subject to voter approval, according to state law.

Borst sought a refund for the fees he’d paid over the course of the last decade and hoped he could get a class action lawsuit together for the rest of the city’s residents. City Attorney Iris Yang said in a phone interview that a successful class action lawsuit could have cost the city millions of dollars.

Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford rejected all of Borst’s arguments, saying that infrastructure costs are included in the cost of service, and that the city has procedures in place for residents who want to protest the fees and receive refunds. Borst never pursued those options, according to the ruling.

“Of course, what it costs to provide such services includes all the required costs of providing service, short term and long term, including operation, maintenance, financial, and capital improvements,” Crawford wrote.

Borst told New Times that he and his attorney plan to appeal the decision.

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