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Ingham County Judge grants East Lansing ratepayers victory because of an unnecessary fee on utility bill

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An Ingham County judge is dealing a victory to East Lansing ratepayers who filed a class action lawsuit over fees the city tacked onto utility bills.

Since 2017, the city of East Lansing has collected more than one million dollars a year from franchise fees charged to Lansing Board of Water & Light users.

City officials say the 5% add-on to electric bills was necessary because it offset the city’s expenses for maintaining rights of way used by the BWL.

But an Ingham County Judge disagreed, when she ruled the fees amounted to an illegal tax. The judge notes the fees went to the city’s general fund says, instead of offsetting the costs of a specific service, the charge was used to broadly raise revenue.

George Hanley, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, says it’s clear East Lansing wrongly charged those fees to thousands of customers.

"We think that it's required that there be a refund for the past charges, and that the city should be enjoined from continuing to impose the charge.”

The case remains open, and a city spokeswoman says officials are reviewing the latest decision.