WATER FIGHT SET FOR TRIAL
NEWPORT CITY – A case between the City of Newport and Village of Derby Center is set to go to trial Monday, Nov. 26, over a water contract.In 1997, Derby Center agreed to supply water to the City Industrial Park in Newport.“Things were going along pretty well,” said attorney Christopher Smart, who represents the Village of Derby. “Under the agreement, our understanding was we had the right to change our rate schedule."Historically, users on the water system paid a minimum charge.“Whether you used water or not, you got treated as though you were using 6,000 gallons,” explained Smart after Monday’s pretrial conference. “The village decided this minimum charge was kind of unfair because it didn’t take into account that different people were reserving different amounts.” That means low water users were paying the same as high water users.In 2006, the village changed its rate schedule and now takes into account how much water customers are using verses what the village has to have ready to deliver. The new minimum charge is one-tenth the rate of what the customer pays. The result is the village would charge Newport City the same rate as everyone else.“Everybody else has been paying this,” said Smith. He said nobody has complained. “By doing this, senior citizens, individuals and working folks say their water rates went down by 60 or 70 percent.”Changing water rates caused city officials to cry foul because Newport City started paying more. When setting the new rates, the Derby Center didn’t even think about the city’s account, said Smart. He also said the city’s account is only about three percent of the system value.Derby Center is countering Newport City’s claim with its own claim because Newport City hooked up the Top of the Hills, North Country Credit Union and possibly a mobile home to the Derby system. “Those were all connections that were not authorized by the agreement,” said Smart. “Its not so much that we’re upset about them hooking it on, but its something you usually get permission for and should be part of a broader agreement.” The village is prepared to provide water to other areas outside the industrial park, which will save the city millions of dollars, Smart said.The village wants to operate the water system as a business and is willing to sell a tremendous amount of water to Newport City at the same rates as for anyone else, but the city seems to want a special deal, Smart said.“We hope before this trial happens maybe everybody will see this deserves a sensible solution,” said Smart. “We don’t want to tangle with our friends.”Smart acknowledged that the city helped pay to upgrade the city water line, but added it is something Newport City would have had to do anyway and should not be considered in the case.Newport City’s attorney Phil White declined to speak on the record.