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Injunction against city, WG&L denied by judge

ALBANY, Ga. -- A U.S. District Court judge has blocked a request to bar the city of Albany and the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission from collecting or spending funds from a statewide utility trust.

In an order dated Dec. 14, Judge Louis Sands denied the injunction petition from three plaintiffs who are suing both government entities contending that both the city and WG&L are breaching a contract agreed upon through the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia's Competitive Trust or MCT.

The denial of the injunction doesn't mean an end to the litigation, however. It merely means both governments can continue collecting and spending the funds as they see fit until the case is heard before a jury.

In denying the motion, Sands writes that the plaintiffs failed to meet the conditions of a four-part test used to determine the validity of a temporary restraining order but offers that it "found compelling Plaintiffs' imploration at the hearing that if the Trust is not for the rate payers' benefit, then it is for no one's benefit."

The suit is being brought against the city and WG&L based on the agreements reached between MEAG and its member utilities, an amendment to that agreement and the change undertaken by the city to its charter in 2009 that established how the funds from the Trust would be spent.

They contend, that since the funds were collected through the utility bills paid by the customers of WG&L, that those funds should be refunded to those rate payers rather than head back to WG&L and the city to the benefit of all citizens, rather than the rate payers exclusively.

In his opinion, Sands, in part, cited a 1935 Georgia Supreme Court Case from Albany in which the justices ruled that because the "citizens of the municipality ... own the plant which supplies the electricity and water(,) (t)he remedy of any ill that can be anticipated rests with the owners of the plant, the qualified voters of the municipality, at the ballot box."

Sands goes on to write that the plaintiffs contention that they will not benefit from lower electric rates unless the court acts to block the governments is hollow given that they have failed to show that the rates would decrease if the court did side with them.

Moreover, Sands says that the issuance of the injunction would not serve the public interest given that the funds that have been spent have been so to the benefit of all of citizens like in the use of the funds to support the Albany Police Department's gang unit.

"The funds implicated by the amendment to the City Charter go beyond Plaintiffs' purported class to the benefit of the entire citizenry of the City, and are currently used to financially support such public functions as a police department gang unit . At this early stage, it appears that the public interest is better served by declining plaintiffs' request for a TRO," he writes.