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Mcdonald Mobile Homes v. Vil. of Swansea





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. JOHN J. HOBAN, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiffs appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of St. Clair County upholding the constitutionality of an ordinance of the Village of Swansea establishing rates for the use of the municipal sewer system. The issues raised on appeal are whether the ordinance imposes arbitrary and unreasonable rates upon plaintiff's businesses, whether the ordinance unfairly discriminates against the plaintiffs, and whether certain provisions of the ordinance allowing for adjustments in individual bills for water service and sewer use are unconstitutionally vague and indefinite.

Plaintiffs are owners and operators of certain mobile home courts>, motels and apartments located within the Village of Swansea. In December 1962, defendant Village enacted an ordinance providing for the sale of revenue bonds to finance the construction of a sewer system pursuant to section 11-141-1 et seq. of the Illinois Municipal Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1961, ch. 24, par. 11-141-1 et seq.) A year later the Village enacted an ordinance establishing certain charges for the use of the sewer system under authority of section 11-141-7 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1961, ch. 24, par. 11-141-7). These charges were based upon the amount of water used each quarter with a minimum charge of $12 per quarter. Residential, commercial and industrial users were all charged according to the same quarterly rate, which ranged from a minimum of $12 for the first 699 cubic feet of water used to 35 cents per cubic foot for any amount used over 8600 cubic feet. Under this inverted rate structure, large consumers of water such as industrial plants are charged according to a lower overall effective rate than small consumers such as individual residences. Under the 1963 ordinance, owners of apartments, hotels and other establishments with multiple units were charged according to the number of water meters in operation at each establishment. Thus, multi-unit establishments with a single meter were treated as single consumers.

On August 1, 1974, the Village enacted Ordinance No. 536 which amended the rate structure applicable to multi-unit establishments with only one water meter. The ordinance provides in pertinent part:

"32.44 Multiple Units. If the Premises contain multiple residential units, such as apartment houses, motels, hotels, trailer courts> or parks, mobile home courts> or parks, or commercial units having a separate facility for using water service, and do not have a separate meter for each unit, then the owner and/or person in possession of the units shall pay a minimum sewer charge of Twelve ($12.00) dollars per quarter for each unit, and shall be billed for sewer service based on a rate computed as follows:

Divide the number of units connected to any one meter into the total quarterly reading of the meter in cubic feet, and then apply the rates set forth in 32.41 (1) herein to each of the units as if each unit had been on an individual meter, and the consumption of water in cubic feet for a unit had been that amount resulting from said division."

Under Ordinance No. 536 owners and operators of multi-unit establishments with a single water meter are charged as if each unit of their establishments were equipped with a meter. In other words, individual living units, whether apartments, motel rooms, or mobile homes, have been placed in the same legislative classification and accorded the same treatment as single-family residences. Thus, plaintiffs' multiple-unit establishments are no longer treated as single water consumers or sewer users. Because of the inverted rate structure under which the cost per cubic foot of water decreases with increased consumption, plaintiffs must pay considerably more in user charges under the present ordinance than they did under the 1963 ordinance. McDonald Mobile Homes, for example, now must pay almost 3 1/2 times the amount it was required to pay under the previous ordinance. The table below compares the amount McDonald Mobile Homes was charged under Ordinance No. 536 for the use of 184,300 cubic feet of water to the amount which would have been charged for the same level of consumption under the old ordinance:


Total Water Usage: 184,300 cu. ft.


For first 700 ft.: $ 12.00 Avg. cub. ft. use 1739 For next 2100 ft.: 21.00 For first 700 ft.: $ 12.00 For next 2700 ft.: 16.20 remaining 1039 ft.: 10.39 ______ For next 3100 ft.: 12.40 Charge against each unit: 22.39 Remaining 175,700 ft.: 614.95 Multiply by 106 units 106 _______ _________ TOTAL $676.55 TOTAL $2,373.34

Plaintiffs contend that the rates imposed on their businesses by Ordinance No. 536 are arbitrary, unreasonable and confiscatory. It is claimed that the ordinance is based on an unwarranted assumption that a household's or business's water consumption and sewer usage are identical and that the rate fixed does not bear a reasonable relationship to the service provided. Plaintiffs also assert that the ordinance unreasonably discriminates against them since plaintiffs' businesses are charged on a different basis than other commercial establishments.

• 1 A judicial determination as to the reasonableness of a municipal ordinance should be based on a consideration of the objectives of the particular ordinance, the means provided for accomplishing those objectives, and the circumstances surrounding its adoption. However, a municipal ordinance enacted under competent statutory authority is presumptively valid and the burden of proving its invalidity is on the party challenging the ordinance. (8 Ill. L. & Prac. Cities, Villages & Other Municipal Corporations § 149 (1954).) Moreover, the presumption that a properly enacted ordinance is reasonable and valid can only be overcome by a clear and affirmative showing that it is unreasonable, oppressive, arbitrary, capricious or unnecessary. City of Evanston v. Ridgeview House, Inc., 64 Ill.2d 40, 66, 349 N.E.2d 399.

• 2 Plaintiffs contend that the ordinance fixing use charges for sewer service based on water consumption is founded on the unwarranted assumption that water use and sewer use are identical. Defendant Village argued at trial that the only practical method for the Village to determine sewer use was to rely on the already existing system for measuring water use. Although the installation of a separate monitoring system for sewer use might be technically possible, the high costs involved rendered the establishment of such a system practically impossible. As defendant noted on appeal, there is probably not a single municipality in the entire State of Illinois which does not base charges for sewer use on water consumption. In our review of the challenged ordinance, we are not concerned with, nor do we have the authority to determine, the propriety, necessity or expediency of the decision to base sewer use charges on water use, but are interested only in whether this action was arbitrary and unreasonable. (See Hunt v. City of Peoria, 30 Ill.2d 230, 234, 145 N.E.2d 719; Baltis v. Village of Westchester, 3 Ill.2d 388, 402-03, 121 N.E.2d 495.) While we agree with ...

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