Tags: South | Carolina | city | sued

SC City Sued for Diverting Utility Funds

Wednesday, 12 Oct 2011 12:47 PM

By Andra Varin

A Columbia, S.C., man is suing the city for using $80 million in utility funds for other purposes other than fixing the city’s aging sewer and water system.

Joseph Azar filed the suit Monday, seeking to force the South Carolina capital to use its utility fund only for maintaining and improving the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, The State newspaper reported Wednesday.

The system has experienced a series of leaks to area rivers. Since Sept. 1, more than a dozen spills have spewed more than 48,000 gallons of sewage, the paper said, citing records from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“It’s a mess,’’ Azar’s lawyer, Dixon Lee, told the paper. “The way to fix this is not to send the money somewhere else.’’

For years, the city has been using water and sewer money to pay for a variety of projects, including local economic development efforts, museum operations, and minority business programs, The State said.

The newspaper reported last year that the amount taken from the $104 million fund for other purposes was averaging about $7 million each year. Over 11 years, that worked out to nearly $80 million.

The State said it could not immediately reach Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin for comment, but city officials have said in the past that diverting water and sewer money helps defray the cost of running the city.

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