Fairways Golf Course scored a mulligan.
Superior Court Judge Michael Price on Tuesday agreed with an attorney representing Fairways Golf Course and issued an order demanding the city of Spokane restore water service “forthwith” to the course amid an ongoing dispute over the cost of water rates and unpaid bills from last season.
The water service was restored at about 11 a.m. Tuesday as a result of the Price’s ruling.
“The city basically took the position that they were dealing with a deadbeat water user,” said attorney Bob Dunn, who is working on behalf of Fairways. “Our position was we are not talking about a water user who is unwilling to pay a fair rate. The rate we were being charged was inherently unfair.”
The city turned the water off to Fairways last week during legal discussions regarding $40,740 of unpaid water bills stemming from the last two months of 2016 and the last two months of the golf season from 2015.
As part of his ruling, Price also ordered the golf course owner to deposit the $40,740 the city claims it’s owed for past water bills with the court. It will remain there until the lawsuit can be decided, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said.
“We suggested that to the court, that they pay us and we’d be happy to turn the water on,” Feist said. “We were served at 4:25 p.m. (Monday) So we have no written response to what we were served with.”
Meanwhile, Dunn said golf course crews have been using water trucks in an attempt to keep the course alive while using legal means to restore the water service.
“The course was starting to show some stress,” Dunn said. “Having the water turned on, the course is going to be in really good shape in about a week.”
Club professional Kris Kallem said owner Buster Heitman rented a truck that could haul 3,700 gallons and has been spraying water on the greens.
“The greens are the most difficult to maintain due to the high traffic and short length of cut,” Kallem said. “We would have been facing months of recovery time had we not gotten water today.”
The lawsuit filed Monday should finally settle the long-standing dispute between the owners of the golf course, located on the West Plains, and the city, which has given written assurances about how the course could lower its water rates.
But the legal arguments could go further than the commercial rate charged to Fairways.
Dunn also said he intends this week to file a tort claim seeking to reclaim up to $30 million of what he claims are a decade of overbilling by the city to about 6,000 residential customers who have paid as much as double for the same water that city residents use.
The city “provides water service. It’s not their water,” Dunn said. “They claim it costs more to provide the water to county residents. But there is no extra service. When the developments are built, the developers provide all the infrastructure so it doesn’t cost the city anything.”
Feist said the city relies on case law going back more than 60 years when it sets its water rates. The city essentially has two classes of water customers: those who live inside the city limits and those outside municipal boundaries.
“State law anticipates that you create a different class of customer based on their location,” Feist said. “Generally, the farther the length from the point of origin of the service the more expensive it is to provide that service.”
City residents also pay property taxes. Some of those tax revenues are used to subsidize the cost of the water utility. Those taxes are not collected from those water users who live outside city boundaries, she said.
“Those are our primary considerations for how much we charge for the different classes of customers,” she said.
As for the golf course, Kallem said the restoration of the water should eliminate doubt for future events, such as the Lilac Invitational Golf Tournament, which is scheduled to be played July 6-9 at Fairways.
“We suffered a little bit of damage, but not from a playability standpoint. The greens will be slower than golfers are used to. They will recover within the next day or so,” Kallem said. “But it really was an up-to-the-last-second-type emergency situation for us.”
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