CALDWELL — In response to a lawsuit filed Oct. 30, Pioneer Irrigation District said it denies all claims that it has repeatedly and unfairly charged small-parcel land owners.
The lawsuit, filed by Caldwell City Council member Dennis Callsen and retired Caldwell teacher Charles Bratton, seeks correction of years of assessment fees and for Pioneer to reimburse its customers for past overpayments.
Bratton originally raised the issue of being overcharged in a tort claim he filed a year ago, claiming Pioneer charges property owners who own less than one acre a flat fee.
The lawsuit claims the small-parcel landowners within the urban areas of the irrigation subsidize the large-parcel landowners.
A Nov. 13 letter from Pioneer to its customers said the district was mistaken in its 2013 tax assessment. If patrons already paid their overcharged assessment, they would be refunded or credited, the letter said.
But the city believes the district has incorrectly charged citizens for years, according to a release provided to the Idaho Press-Tribune Friday. Pioneer did not immediately return a request for comment.
Mayor Garret Nancolas said the city brought the billing practices to the attention of Pioneer as early as 2009. Nancolas said because Bratton and Callsen filed the suit, it forced PID to admit its assessment mistake. Still, the city said it’s been going on for years and could result in “millions of dollars of past illegal assessments against Caldwell citizens and others.”
Caldwell is eligible to join the class action suit, but hasn’t at this time
No one knows exactly how long the incorrect assessments have occurred — the city estimates $250,000 yearly and more than $2.5 million total. Callsen and Bratton’s suit claimed more than $100,000 yearly. They pointed out that because the total number of years is unclear, a trial would be necessary to pinpoint the exact amount Pioneer owes its customers.
Pioneer provides irrigation and drainage for about 34,000 acres in Canyon County and originally filed a lawsuit against the city of Caldwell in 2008, claiming the city illegally uses Pioneer drains. Although the practice had been in place for more than 100 years, the matter became legally contentious when Caldwell adopted its stormwater management manual in 2006.