A judge in Delaware’s Court of Chancery has decided in favor of the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority in its dispute with the town of Camden over a building permit fee.
In a decision handed down Sept. 18, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III determined the $27,000 fee amounted to a tax and said Delaware law specifically exempts the Authority from taxation.
The quarrel began in April 2015 when the Authority submitted plans for the tank to the Camden council and asked for a waiver of any building permit; this had been done in the past, Slights noted.
The council, however, pressed forward and levied the $27,000 charge as a building permit fee, refusing to issue the permit for the tank even though preparatory work already had been accomplished. Council members later ordered all work on the project halted.
Although work on the tank began again and the tank completed, the case continued, with arguments made before Slights in August.
In his decision, Slights made the distinction between a fee and tax, saying a tax would require the town to show it had made substantial financial outlays regarding the tank. Taxes, he said, are levied without regard to any benefits the town may receive from the money.
A fee, however, is a voluntary payment that offsets costs to the government associated with the project.
“That the government labels a particular pecuniary exaction a ‘fee’ does not make it so,” Slights wrote, adding he considered the $27,000 to be an “impermissible tax.”