WRD sues city over unpaid invoices

DOWNEY - The Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which provides groundwater to 43 cities in Los Angeles County, is suing Downey and two other cities for accumulating 10 months of unpaid invoices.Downey owes about $5.3 million in total. The WRD also wants the court's permission to stop providing groundwater to Downey, Cerritos and Signal Hill. Downey officials, however, say they won't pay the invoices until the WRD pays a judgment issued in Downey's favor last spring. On April 25, 2011, a court sided with Downey, Cerritos and Signal Hill in its allegations that the WRD illegally raised its rates from 2006-10, in violation of Prop. 218, which limits the methods in which local governments or agencies can raise taxes or fees without taxpayer approval. The WRD appealed the ruling but lost the appeal on June 13. A trial court will determine the refund owed to Downey, city officials said. Councilman Mario Guerra said Downey stands to receive $15 million in refunds. "Once the WRD pays us the $15 million we will happily pay back the $5.3 million," Guerra said. "Or better yet, they can just deduct it and send us the balance." Downey officials said the invoices include illegal rate assessments. Paying the inflated invoices "would amount to a gift of public funds...," city attorney Yvonne Abich Garcia wrote in a letter to WRD. "Therefore, the city is unauthorized to pay your invoices," Garcia wrote. WRD officials, however, see it differently. H. Francisco Leal, interim general counsel for WRD, wrote back to Garcia and claimed the court's ruling "does not constitute a final judgment and is not a valid basis (to not pay the invoices)..." Leal also said Downey would be charged interest penalties of 1 percent for each month the payment is delinquent. "If anyone living in the city of Downey, Cerritos and Signal Hill stopped paying their water bill to the city for even three months, these cities would turn off the resident's water," said Albert Robles, president of WRD's board of directors. "Ironically, these cities are continuing to charge and collect from their residents for the very same groundwater that they inexplicably refuse to pay." -Eric Pierce, city editor

********** Published: February 23, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 45