County has to return $66,000 |

County has to return $66,000

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County has been ordered to give back $66,000 plus interest that a group of property owners said was wrongly spent on fire trucks instead of a fire protection facility.

District Judge Dave Gamble issued the verdict Thursday at the conclusion of a two-day bench trial on a lawsuit filed by the original builders and developers of Wildflower Ridge, a collection of pricey custom homes on 440 acres east of Gardnerville.

The Wildflower group sued the county in March 1998, saying they should get back $66,000 in impact fees they paid when they developed their properties. The property owners had agreed to pay $1,400 per house – the standard $400 fee assessed for fire protection in the East Fork Fire Protection District plus $1,000 for fire protection facilities.

The property owners said the extra $1,000 per lot was specifically intended for a fire filling station, which is a well or other water source for filling fire trucks. Instead, East Fork used the money to buy two fire trucks for the Fish Springs Fire Department, which covers the East Valley area.

County officials contended the fire trucks qualified as fire protection facilities, and cited a development agreement between the county and the developers that didn’t specifically state facilities would be built.

Minden attorney Mike Rowe, who represented the builders, presented former county officials who corroborated his clients’ claim that the money was intended for a filling station.

“This is a wonderful vindication of the position we’ve taken,” said Rowe. “They wouldn’t have brought a lawsuit if they didn’t feel they were owed the money. The county told us there was no issue and we believed there was, and the verdict agrees. They’re very happy about it.”

Deputy District Attorney Robert Morris, who represented the county, was disappointed by the decision.

“Our reading of the (development agreement) was that the county was to provide necessary fire protection, and we thought that the East Fork’s purchase of the tender and brush truck provided protection, and the money had been properly spent,” he said. “Their case really involved bringing people in to say there was more to the agreement than what was reflected (in writing).”

Gamble ordered the county to return $66,000 plus interest that has been accruing since it was collected. Rowe said that amount totalled more than $112,000 as of March 1.

Morris said he hasn’t decided whether to appeal the decision. He said he will notify the county commission, which could ask him to appeal.

If the verdict stands, the money will be divided among the seven entities that filed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs were among the original developers of the area, which has 93 homes, but not all of the developers joined the suit. Those involved in the suit developed 66 lots.