Filing a Municipal Lien for Not Paying for Sewer Service

In Patton-Ferguson Joint Authority v. Hawbaker, 14 Pa. Commw. 402, 322 A.2d 783 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1974) Hawbaker owned apartments serviced by the Patton-Ferguson Joint Authority (Joint Authority). The Joint Authority filed a municipal lien against Hawbaker and caused a writ of scire facias to issue after Hawbaker failed to pay for sewer service from the third quarter of 1969 to the fourth quarter of 1971 inclusive. Hawbaker filed an affidavit of defense which challenged the rate resolution of the Joint Authority. Under the Joint Authority's rate schedule, residential customers were billed $ 135.40 per year per each dwelling unit with each residential dwelling unit in an apartment building billed as a separate entity. Hotels and motels were not classified residential, rather each hotel or motel room was considered one-half of an equivalent dwelling unit. The Court of Common Pleas of Centre County agreed with Hawbaker that the flat rate charge of $ 33.85 per quarter, when applied to one, two, or three bedroom apartments as well as to separate dwelling units, was an arbitrary and unreasonable charge for the service rendered to Hawbaker and ordered that the liens be removed. Hawbaker, 322 A.2d at 784-785. The Joint Authority appealed to this Court which reversed: Moreover, the evidence presented by the appellee Hawbaker does not indicate that the Authority's Joint Authority rate classification was improper in regard to the value of service rendered. The appellee Hawbaker did contend that a random sampling survey had shown single family dwellings as using more water, and so requiring more sewage service than apartment dwellings. The persuasiveness of this study, however, is greatly lessened, if not entirely lost, because of its special selectivity, the small number of homes chosen for survey, and the short span of time covered. In his attack on the reasonableness of the rate in relation to the service rendered, the appellee Hawbaker further emphasizes the amount of use of the service rather than its value. Sewer rental charges, however, must have a reasonable relationship to the value of the service rendered either as actually consumed or as readily available for use, and there is evidence here to show that the availability of service for apartments and single family dwellings, based on peak requirements, was substantially the same. Where the classification of users has not been proved to be unreasonable and is clearly uniform, flat rate sewer rental which reasonably relates to the value of the service rendered may be applied. . . . When, as here, the appellee Hawbaker has not satisfactorily proved that such standard was not met, we must find that the rate imposed by the Authority Joint Authority conforms with the legislative direction. Hawbaker, 322 A.2d at 786-787. In Hawbaker, the Court determined that Hawbaker's survey was lacking because of the small number of homes chosen for the survey and the small amount of time the survey covered. "The fact that one property may use substantially more water than another similarly classified is not in itself ground for compelling a reduction of the rental to those properties which have fewer users or which use the water more economically." Hickory Township v. Brockway, 201 Pa. Super. 260, 192 A.2d 231, 234 (Pa. Super. 1963). The trial court appropriately found that the Partnership failed to introduce any evidence to establish that the charge did not bear a rational relationship to the value of the services rendered.