Legal fees increase significantly | ParkRecord.com

Legal fees increase significantly

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

As more people sign up to use Summit County’s water system the debt borne by each of its nearly 4,200 customers has decreased.

And while water rates aren’t expected to fall in the Snyderville Basin, they also won’t likely increase any time soon.

"We hope to not have a rate increase next year at all," said Marti Gee, who is the public services coordinator for the county’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District. "We want to keep our rates as low as possible."

Mountain Regional formed about six years ago with the issuance of roughly $33 million worth of bonds, which in 2001 meant each residential connection in the Snyderville Basin serviced $25,868 worth of debt.

Officials expect that figure to drop in 2007 to $6,785 per residential connection.

Also, next year, the district’s operating costs per connection should fall from $799 in 2006 to $772, according to Scott Green, who is Mountain Regional’s chief financial officer.

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Because customers are using more water, the district’s operating revenues are expected to jump more than five percent in 2007, according to a tentative Mountain Regional budget adopted this month by the Summit County Commission.

Water standby fees collected by the county, which are assessed to more than 1,750 undeveloped lots in Snyderville, could increase more than five percent in 2007, the budget proposal states.

But Green expects an 11 percent hike next year in Mountain Regional’s operating expenses as legal fees for the district jump by almost $42,000.

Mountain Regional’s $4.7 million budget shows legal fees for the district increasing more than 18 percent in 2007 to $269,300.

Believing they had quelled an expensive antitrust lawsuit against Mountain Regional when a Third District Court judge dismissed the case filed by the district’s private competitor, Summit Water Distribution Co., county officials suffered a setback when the Utah Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision.

"Defending lawsuits is very expensive and the commissioners have asked us to aggressively defend the county, and that’s what we’re going to do," Summit County Attorney David Brickey said. "There are several lawsuits against Mountain Regional, each of them sort of specialized."

State antitrust laws were violated when the Summit County Commission attempted unsuccessfully to condemn Summit Water Distribution Co. while forming Mountain Regional, the lawsuit against the county states.

"Those lawyers who work in those arenas do get the call and request a significant amount of money for their services," Brickey said. "The expectation that the public has is that the government is going to be there, doing what it has to, to represent its interests and its people."

Meanwhile, officials say water production could account for Mountain Regional’s most significant budget increase next year as power bills and the costs to lease water in the Weber River significantly increase.

With new subdivisions going in at Promontory, The Colony and near Spring Creek, the county is bracing for seven percent more residential water users in 2007.

Mountain Regional also serves Silver Summit, Park Ridge Estates, Summit Park and Silver Springs.

According to County Commissioner Bob Richer, Mountain Regional has been taken "from a shaky financial situation to a well-managed organization."

Gee, who lives in Summit Park, added, "I’m actually a (Mountain Regional) ratepayer and I am grateful as a homeowner to have a reliable water supply."

A public hearing is slated Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. at the County Courthouse in Coalville before a final budget for Mountain Regional is approved.