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WHITE ROCK SEWAGE CORPORATION v. TOWNSHIP MONROE (09/12/83)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: September 12, 1983.

WHITE ROCK SEWAGE CORPORATION, APPELLANT
v.
TOWNSHIP OF MONROE, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County in case of Township of Monroe v. White Rock Sewage Corporation, No. 2315 Civil 1980.

COUNSEL

Melville G. M. Walwyn, with him William G. Dade, Dade & Walwyn, for appellant.

Richard C. Snelbaker, Snelbaker, McCaleb & Elicker, for appellee.

Judges Blatt, Craig and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.

Author: Doyle

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 120]

Petitioner White Rock Sewage Corporation (White Rock) appeals an order of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas entering judgment against White Rock and in favor of Monroe Township. We affirm.

White Rock operates a sewage collection system as a public utility for the White Rock Acres subdivision located in Monroe Township. On April 27, 1978 White Rock entered into an agreement with Monroe Township under which the Township agreed to process White Rock's sewage at a municipal sewage treatment facility.*fn1 The agreement specified no fee scale, but

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 121]

White Rock agreed to be bound by the Township's rates, rules and regulations to be enacted at a future date. Negotiations were then held in which White Rock and the Township informally agreed upon a metered rate of $3.65 per 1,000 gallons of sewage. On June 22, 1978 Monroe Township enacted a sewage rate Ordinance which established a metered rate of $3.65 per 1,000 gallons to be applicable to a certain classification of customers. The Ordinance failed, however, to include White Rock's sewage collection system within any classification of customers.*fn2

In August of 1978 White Rock connected its system to the municipal treatment facility and was billed at the metered rate of $3.65 per 1,000 gallons. White Rock made payments at this rate until September of 1979, when it refused to make further payments.

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 122]

Monroe Township filed an assumpsit action in the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas, and on March 4, 1982, that court entered judgment against White Rock, awarding Monroe Township the unpaid fees.*fn3 White Rock appeals the court's decision.

White Rock contends that the trial court erred in finding that it had agreed to pay the metered rate of $3.65 per 1,000 gallons. In reviewing the decision of a trial court we are limited to a consideration of whether findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and whether the law was properly applied to the instant facts. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Volmer, 41 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 286, 398 A.2d 1098 (1979). After a thorough review of the record, we find that the court based its decision on uncontradicted testimony that White Rock had negotiated, and agreed upon the metered rate later embodied in the Ordinance. In addition, the court placed importance on the fact that White Rock paid this rate for nearly a year without raising any objection. We find this evidence sufficient to support the conclusion that White Rock agreed to the metered rate of $3.65 per 1,000 gallons of sewage.

White Rock contends that it cannot be bound to a rate set forth in the Township's Ordinance because that Ordinance did not apply to sewage collection systems. This contention misinterprets the court's decision, which based White Rock's obligation not on the Ordinance, but on the separate agreement it made

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 123]

    with Monroe Township.*fn4 The failure of the Ordinance to reinforce this agreement in no way affects the legality of the agreement itself.*fn5

White Rock also argues that Monroe Township exceeded its authority in establishing a rate which was excessive. In its brief White Rock contends that the revenues received by the Township greatly exceed the operating expenses charged by the authority. However, Section 2 of the Act of July 18, 1935, P.L. 1286, as amended, 53 P.S. ยง 2232, allows a township to charge a rate for sewage services sufficient to cover not only operating expenses, but also expenses relating to maintenance, repair, depreciation, and amortization of indebtedness, allowing for a ten percent margin of safety. When the trial court considered all of these expenses, it correctly concluded that the rates established by the Township generated revenues which accurately reflected the Township's cost.

White Rock next contends that the fees were inequitably apportioned among sewage customers, citing the lower flat rate applicable to private dwellings. Judicial review of a municipality's plan of apportionment

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 124]

    is limited. As long as a charge is uniform within a classification, and is reasonably proportional to the service rendered, the court will not interfere with the municipality's discretion in the matter. Glen Riddle Park, Inc. v. Middletown Township, 11 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 574, 314 A.2d 524 (1974). Initially we note that the question of uniformity is not applicable; White Rock constitutes its own class pursuant to the special agreement. The higher metered rate, which was also applicable to industrial users under the Ordinance, was reasonably proportional to the service rendered, especially considering the added costs which may be involved in servicing large users.*fn6 Monroe Township clearly acted within its discretion in apportioning costs among its customers.

Lastly White Rock argues that their agreement with the Township should be set aside as unconscionable, noting that the metered rate costs incurred under the agreement greatly exceeded the income from their own customers. The trial court, however, found that the excess costs were the result of an unexpectedly large sewage flow due to a defective condition in White Rock's system. Thus, White Rock is itself responsible for its present financial difficulties. The terms of their agreement were not unfair.

Order

Now, September 12, 1983, the orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County in the above referenced matter, dated March 4, 1982 and June 25, 1982, are hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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