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Lorain water system customers file $41 million lawsuit against the city

Posted at 9:39 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 23:23:26-05

LORAIN, Ohio — Customers with the Lorain water system filed a lawsuit against the city in Lorain County Court on March 2, claiming the water and sewer system over-charged customers $41 million over the past several years.

Attorney Gerald Phillips filed the lawsuit on behalf of customers, claiming the billing system has been responsible for unreasonable rates that caused some 6,000 users to get behind in payments and face shut-off in 2019.

Some of the water bills are now exceeding $200 a month, even though the city has instituted a 90-day freeze on a 2020 rate hike.

The lawsuit is asking that water customers be reimbursed the money they unfairly paid due to alleged unfair billing practices.

"This has been long needed, it's been buried for many years and it's about time the city is held accountable," Phillips said.

"I can't believe that the city, for so many years, has over-charged and over-billed."

Tia Hilton, who is an Amherst Twp. Lorain water customer, told News 5 the city needs to do more to solve what some residents are calling an on-going water crisis.

Hilton believes unfair billing continues play a role in some residents losing their homes, unable to adequately care for their families.

"It's horrible, there's families with children without water, then children service is going to be stepping in because they're not doing what they need to do as a parent for a kid. How can they when the water bills are so outrageous," Hilton said.

"How do you steal $41 million from these people and think it's okay to sleep at night. That is ridiculous."

"So today they're being held accountable for every penny that they took from all of us and this stuff stops now."

Some Lorain residents are demanding that Lorain use part of a $40 surplus fund to help lower water and sewer rates after the city Law Director rendered an opinion that the city utilities department can legally use the money.

Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley told News 5 he's now exploring the idea of using the surplus funds and hopes city council will extend the current 90-day rate freeze.

Bradley said a new notification system to those households facing shut-off and a hearing process for those behind on their water and sewer bills is having a positive impact.

"At this point I'm still doing my own reviewing of the information that the Law Director has provided, I'm doing my own evaluation," Bradley said.

"During the hearing process, they can either challenge what they owe, they can give medical reasons why they didn't pay, they can give financial reasons why they didn't pay or they can actually give any other good cause."

Bradley said he met with Ohio Auditor of State, Keith Faber, and Faber has agreed to conduct a performance study of both the water and sewer departments in the coming weeks in search of way to reduce rates.