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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Man fined $500 for sharing city water with neighbor loses court appeal

A Spirit Lake man lost a court appeal challenging a fine he received for connecting his neighbor to his city water service via a hose, after the neighbor had been cut off for nonpayment.

Michael Freitas claimed that the city couldn’t constitutionally bar him from making a charitable gift of the water to his neighbor by running a hose across the alley. But the Idaho Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, upheld an earlier Kootenai County jury verdict that left Freitas with a $500 fine.

Idaho law clearly grants cities authority to provide and regulate domestic water service, the court found. And the appellate judges weren’t swayed by Freitas’ argument that he’d already paid for the water because it went through his water meter.

“Although the water provided to the third party is still being paid for, the water previously provided to the third party for which that third party had not paid remains unpaid and the incentive to pay that debt is reduced,” Court of Appeals Judge John Melanson wrote for a unanimous court. “This threatens the city’s ability to provide low-cost water services.”

He noted that Spirit Lake charges just a $15 flat monthly fee per residence for water service, which covers 12,000 gallons of water, plus another $1.25 for each additional 1,000 gallons used.

The Spirit Lake city ordinance makes it “unlawful” for anyone to tamper with city water connections or connect or deliver water from them to any property not provided with city water service.

Freitas, who was represented by Deputy Kootenai County Public Defender Jay Logsdon in the case, argued that the ordinance as written could conceivably make it illegal to give someone a glass of water if they then took it somewhere where there was no water service.

But the court wrote, “We need not consider the ‘what-if’s.’ ” What Freitas did, Melanson wrote, was “the quintessential example of the conduct the ordinance was designed to prohibit.”