PITTSFIELD — A hearing on a potential class action lawsuit against the Adams Fire District alleging illegal collection of fees ended without a ruling on Wednesday.
Judge Michael Callan heard arguments in Berkshire Superior Court and took the information under advisement for a ruling that could come in the next few weeks.
At issue was whether the Adams Fire District has the right to charge residents to fund the operation of the fire department and the town’s streetlights through fire protection fees, street lighting fees and customer charges.
Jeffrey Morneau, attorney for plaintiff Catherine Foster, asserted that there is no legislative authority granted to the Adams Fire District to charge fees for its operations. Instead, the district is authorized to present certified cost of operations to the town, which would then raise the money through taxes on assessed properties.
Stephen Pagnotta, who is representing the Adams Fire District, noted that in several legislative passages, it is implied that a fee structure could be used to charge for water supplied by the district. In 1998, he noted, the district split up the water fee into four fees: one for water, another for fire protection, one for street lighting and a customer charge to cover administrative costs.
Morneau contended that process is not allowed by the legislation originally establishing the district in the late 1800s.
Pagnotta insisted that splitting the water fee into four different fees was done to establish transparency into the billing system so people know how much they pay for each service. He noted that they are still charging the same; they simply put a different label on it.
Judge Callan asked both attorneys to provide pleadings electronically to the court while saying that he would take it all under consideration and issue a ruling at a later time.
Both sides had submitted motions for summary judgement, asking the court to decide in their favor before it could reach trial.