Bethany Krajelis Feb. 6, 2013, 12:49pm

A not-for-profit organization that serves people with developmental disabilities and two St. Clair County residents have filed a federal lawsuit over Caseyville Township’s sewer rates.

Cerebral Palsy of Southwestern Illinois (CPSWIL), Erik Schuetz and Florence Thompson brought the complaint late last month against the township, its Sewer and Wastewater Treatment systems, and six township officials.

They claim the defendants are charging CPSWIL “a higher tap-in fee and monthly sewer services rate than it charges other owners of single family detached dwellings because CPSWIL’s two dwellings will operate as group homes for persons with disabilities.”

The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under the Fair Housing, Americans with Disabilities and the Rehabilitation acts.

CPSWIL, which is based in Belleville, recently opened a six-person group home on Oulvey Street in Fairview Heights and is in the process of finishing construction of another six-person group home on Ruby Lane in Fairview Heights, the suit states.

Both will operate as community-integrated living arrangements (CILAs) that will serve adults who have cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities and need living assistance. CPSWIL has two existing CILA homes: one on Potomac Drive in Belleville and another on Monticello Street in Fairview Heights.

Schuetz, a 33-year-old Belleville resident, is one of two individuals CPSWIL has identified to move into its Ruby Lane home. Thompson is a 48-year-old Fairview Heights resident and one of four individuals set to move into the Oulvey Street home.

They both have cerebral palsy, use an electric wheelchair and require assistance to live independently, the suit states.

CPSWIL asserts that the tap-in fee the defendants charged is more than “four times as much as other single family residences are charged” and its monthly rate for sewer services is “fifty percent higher than the rate charged” to other single family residences.

The defendants, according to the complaint, justified the higher fees by classifying the dwellings as commercial rather than residential.

“Under the relevant ordinance, the appropriate sewer connection for group homes is a residential connection for a single family residence,” the suit asserts. “Even if the ordinance requires a commercial connection or multi-family residential tap-in fee, plaintiffs requested a reasonable accommodation from the defendants’ rules, policies and practices so that the six-person group homes are charged a single family residential rate and tap-in fee. ”

The suit asserts the defendants refused to grant such an accommodation to “treat the group homes as single family residences as a means of discriminating against plaintiff CPSWIL and the intended residents of the home, all of whom are individuals with disabilities.”

In the complaint, CPSWIL contends that at least one other CILA provider, Support Systems & Services, operates two five-person group homes in Fairview Heights and gets charged  a residential monthly sewer rate from the defendants.

The organization asserts that its group homes are detached single family homes that “generally resemble other homes in the area.” It also believes residents at these homes will use about the same amount of water and sewer services as a large family would.

According to the complaint, the defendants charged CPSWIL a commercial connection tap-in fee of $12,800 in July 2012 for its Ouvley Street group home. The organization’s executive director, Jeanne Haege, believes the home should have been charged $2,575 for a single family residence.

CPSWIL, according to the suit, paid the fee as to not delay the move in date for residents of the Ouvley Street group home.

In the process of attending township board meetings to seek a $10,225 refund, CPSWIL claims that some trustees made comments about how “these people” shouldn’t be living in these homes and how Haege should “find someplace else for them to go.”

The organization filed its suit shortly after learning it would be charged a $12,075 tap-in fee for its Ruby Lane group home.

CPSWIL can’t pay that fee “due to its limited funds” and “will be unable to provide the Ouvley Street residents the full range of services it normally provides” without the refund it requested.

St. Louis attorneys Thomas E. Kennedy and Roshni Shikari represent CPSWIL and John Ammann at the St. Louis University Legal Clinic represents Schuetz and Thompson.

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