Get Gephardt: Layton man demands refund for decades of charges for water he can’t access

Jun 3, 2024, 10:28 PM | Updated: 10:43 pm

LAYTON — Whenever Bruce Hart turns on his sprinklers, the water meter is running. He, along with neighbors on his street in Layton, get the water for their lawns from city pipes – the same pipes supplying the drinking water. Secondary water is not an option for the neighborhood.

A watershed moment

After 37 years of living in his home, Hart only just realized he had been paying for secondary water when he took a hard look at every line item on this year’s property tax assessment.

“I noticed that I had a charge from Weber Basin Water for like $70,” he said. “At the bottom of my tax deal it said Weber Basin Water again, for $230 something. I got kind of concerned about that. I wonder why I would get two bills from Weber Basin Water.”

Hart said he’s aware of a bond recently passed in Davis County would explain one of the two charges. But the second charge gnawed at him, so he drove over to the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District to ask about that charge.

“She says, ‘Mr. Hart, it’s your secondary water,’” he said the representative told him. “And I said, ‘I don’t have any secondary water, but I’d love to have it.’”

Infrastructure that doesn’t exist

Hart said he was told by Weber Basin Water that the infrastructure to supply his home with their secondary water simply does not exist.

“And I said, ‘Then why am I being charged for it?’” he said.

That sent him on a deep dive of his property tax assessments.

“I could see what was happening, year after year,” he said.

Combing through years of taxes paid, every year he found the line for the Weber Basin Water charge. In total, $1,871 paid over 37 years for water he says he never received a drop of.

Bruce Hart and KSL’s Matt Gephardt pour through 30 years of Hart’s property tax assessments to verify the same charge had appeared as a line item every year. Mark Wetzel, KSL TV)

Hart said he returned to Weber Basin Water to demand a refund.

“Doggonit, why don’t you guys just give me back the money?” he says he asked. “You’ve charged me for something, and you’ve never provided it.”

But when he was told he could only get some of the money back, Hart decided it was time to call the KSL Investigators.

We took his issue to the water district.

Buying water rights

“So, he has actually purchased the right to use water on his property,” said Darren Hess, Weber Basin Water’s assistant general manager over operations.

Hess said water rights are valuable, and that’s what Hart has – even though he cannot access the water.

“There are individuals who say, ‘My father, or my grandfather, told me never to cancel this water [right] because this water is valuable,’” Hess said.

Hess confirmed that Hart is not alone. Many of his neighbors have also been charged annually for the right to use water they cannot access. But he emphasized the community hasn’t been paying for nothing. If they want secondary water, they can get it. They’ll just have to pony up the hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – for the cost of installing that infrastructure.

“They could pool their resources and dig up the streets and put in a secondary water system,” said Hess. “So, that is a possibility.”

“Is it a realistic possibility?” we asked.

“Funding would probably be an issue,” he said.

As for the refund Hart has asked for, Hess says even though they’re not required to, the water district is offering him a refund equaling about nine of the 37 years he paid for the right to access the secondary water.

“That’s something that the district has done to try to help Mr. Hart feel better about the situation,” Hess said.

The water district wouldn’t refund the full 37 years Hess said, because “There’s some personal responsibility that people need to have when they look at their property tax statements.”

Hart told KSL he rejected that offer. He says he canceled his water rights so the charge will not show up on his property tax assessment again. Now, he says he’s weighing his legal options to try to recoup all of what he has paid previously.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” he said. “This just isn’t right.”

What about the neighbors?

As a result of all this, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District said it is now sending notices out to people like Hart, who have been paying for water rights that they cannot use to ensure they know what they’re paying for.

In the meantime, no matter where you live, or if you have secondary water – it is tax notice time. A lesson here is to review your statement and perhaps don’t take for granted that what comes on that assessment is a service you’re actually getting.

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Get Gephardt: Layton man demands refund for decades of charges for water he can’t access