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High price of battle

Huntertown should ease up on costly lawsuits

All the jokes to the contrary, lawyers do serve an important function in American society and in our communities. They prosecute and defend accused criminals. They help people plan by setting up wills and trusts. They stand up for the little people when someone’s rights are endangered.

Their work requires advanced degrees, and they’re expected to wear nice suits when they’re in court, and the quality of their work often has a direct bearing on the course of a client’s life. So it’s OK for them to charge hourly rates way above the minimum wage.

But there are limits. And the Huntertown sewer situation is getting mighty darned close.

As staff writer Vivian Sade reported Sunday, in the first five months of 2014 – that’s five months – Huntertown has paid out $304,397 in legal fees.

For some perspective on that, Allen County – of which Huntertown is but a tiny portion – spent $455,917. Looked at another way, if each of the 4,810 souls in Huntertown ponied up $63.28 this year, they would about cover the legal bill through May 30.

Huntertown governmental leaders were quick to blame Fort Wayne City Utilities, with whom they have been fighting for years over the right to provide sewage service to customers in the Huntertown area.

“The city of Fort Wayne has fought us tooth and nail on all these issues,” David Hawk, the town’s attorney, told Sade.

During the same time period, City Utilities has spent $107,000 in the same battle, and its spokespeople blame Huntertown.

Huntertown’s taxpayers also have been footing the bill for an appeal of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s denial of their request to build a wastewater treatment plant. And they soon will be shelling out for legal battles with developers in an area of the county they’re seeking to annex.

This kind of behavior is OK for kids in a sandbox, but it doesn’t befit neighboring municipal entities in an era when governmental thrift has never been so important.

Huntertown officials need to chill for awhile. No more appeals. No more lawsuits. No more land-grabs.

There has to be a way Huntertown and City Utilities can come together on a new contract and put an end to their legal wrangling.

Fort Wayne could give Huntertown an out in the event that the town’s dreamed-of sewer plant becomes a reality. And that $900,000 that Huntertown owes the city in higher sewer fees the town has refused to pay while Fort Wayne provides it service in lieu of a contract? Maybe that money could be “forgiven” if Huntertown gets serious about a new deal.

Come on, folks! You’re spending money like the federal government!