Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County in the case of Township of Hopewell, a Municipal Corporation v. The Municipal Water Authority of the Borough of Aliquippa, a Municipal Authority, No. 407 of 1981.
Keith R. McMillen, Duplaga, Tocci, Palmieri & McMillen, for appellant, Township of Hopewell.
Clarence D. Neish, for appellee, Municipal Water Authority of the Borough of Aliquippa.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle and Barry. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr. Judge Barry concurs in the result only.
[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 135]
Township of Hopewell (Hopewell) and the Municipal Water Authority of the Borough of Aliquippa (Aliquippa Authority) cross-appeal a Beaver County Common Pleas Court order approving a sewer rate increase but postponing the payment thereof. We vacate and remand.
In September, 1980, Aliquippa Authority increased the sewer rate charges for Hopewell users from $11.00 to $28.00 per dwelling unit per quarter and increased its resident users' rates from approximately $10.08 to $11.06. These increases were to become effective on November 1, 1980. On February 25, 1981, Hopewell filed a complaint in the common pleas court seeking a declaratory judgment invalidating the rate increase as those increases relate to the residents of Hopewell. On February 12, 1982, that court invalidated the rate increase from September 25, 1980 to June 1, 1981, but held it to be valid after June 1, 1981. Both parties filed
[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 136]
exceptions and arguments were heard by the common pleas court en banc. That court entered an order approving the sewer rate increase, effective June 1, 1984.*fn1
The factual history began on May 12, 1958, when Hopewell Township and Aliquippa Borough entered into an agreement whereby each agreed to allow certain residents of the other to connect to and be served by their respective sewers and sewer treatment plants when such plants began operations.*fn2 In 1958, Aliquippa Authority sewer system served approximately 550 Hopewell residents, charging a flat rate of $30.00 per Hopewell resident per year. In 1960, the Hopewell Authority sewage treatment plant began operations and served approximately fifty residents of Aliquippa, charging a flat rate of $14.00 per quarter. Subsequently, the respective authorities increased their quarterly charges to their non-resident users. In February of 1980, the Hopewell Authority increased its quarterly charge for both Hopewell and Aliquippa residents from $25.00 to $28.00. In September, 1980, Aliquippa Authority increased its quarterly charges for Hopewell residents from $11.00 to $28.00 while maintaining the $11.00 quarterly charge for Aliquippa residents.*fn3
[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 137]
The common pleas Court's judicial review of a rate resolution is limited to a determination of whether there has been a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion or an arbitrary establishment of the rate system. See Brandywine Homes v. Caln Township Municipal Authority, 19 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 193, 200, 339 A.2d 145, 148 (1975). The burden of proving such an abuse of discretion rests upon the party challenging such action. Id. at 200, 339 A.2d at 149. Where the court below has received the evidence, our scope of review on appeal is limited to considering whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the law was properly applied to the facts. Port Authority of Allegheny County v. Scott, 62 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 631, 642, 437 A.2d 502, 508 (1981).
Aliquippa Authority's rate-making power is controlled by Section 4B(h) of the Municipal Authorities Act of 1945 (Act), Act of May 2, 1945, P.L. 382, as ...