Noting that it was probably not a wise choice by someone in the past, the LaGrange County Regional Utility District Board agreed that it would not be worth pursuing what has believed to have been previously unbilled charges against YMCA Camp Potawatomi.
Early this year, the board was made aware by a customer that the camp, located on CR 700S east of Wolcottville, had not been properly billed since the system had been completed. The issue came to light after new legislation came into effect that changed how youth camps were billed.
The district’s legal counsel told the board that the customer also wanted the district to recover what he believed should have been billed.
Gastineau told the board that two buildings, the Sharpell Center and the director’s house that sit on the same parcel, had not been billed for use and that the district had not been providing service to those buildings. “I would argue that it is a mistake to think that we improperly failed to bill for those uses,” Gastineau said of the Sharpell Center and director’s house. When the system was installed, “A decision was made at that time not to connect those buildings and therefore, we did not bill them.”
Gastineau noted that a court would likely overturn a decision like that made by the district only if the decision was “made contrary to the statute or if it was made irrationally.” He felt the district had evidence that would show the decision not to connect or bill that parcel was not irrational.
As for other uses on parcels at the camp, Gastineau continued, he did not feel that the billing method made at the time was irrational or against the statute.
The camp reported at some point that it had 120 beds in the buildings that were connected and were billed. The district established an equation for billing that saw the number of beds divided by 5, then multiplied by the campground factor of 0.3 at the time, to come up with 7.2 REU (Residential Equivalency Units) for billing. The only number that the district is unsure where it came from was the dividing by 5.
Still, Gastineau said, the district did not fail to bill properly for the other uses. “You can argue with the wisdom of how that decision was made, but it was made rationally,” Gastineau said.
Finally, if the district had failed to bill the camp properly, could it recover that amount?
“I don’t think so,” Gastineau said. “There is no statute or case law to support an effort to recover. You would waste a lot of time and money on legal fees if you try to recover.”
Gastineau noted that the principal of law states that if you deal with someone over time, and if you try to change how you deal with them, you can’t do that and recover money from them based on the change. “Not many courts would be sympathetic to arguments to the contrary,” he stated.
The district would do better now to continue to change the billing from this point onward based on state statute. “I don’t think the previous board made a mistake,” Gastineau said. “And even if they did, you can’t recover from it.”
The camp had until near the end of November to let the district know what it intended to do concerning hooking the Sharpell Center and director’s house.