North Texas Daily

City, UNT lock horns over power

City, UNT lock horns over power

October 18
21:54 2010

By Tim Monzingo / Senior Staff Writer –

“Notice to defendant: You have been sued.”

Those are the words at the top of a civil citation delivered to UNT in February 2008.

Since then, UNT and Denton Municipal Electric have been squabbling over whether the university owes more than $1 million in unpaid electric bills.

The latest set of oral arguments in the case was heard by the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth on Oct. 6, and both parties await a decision. A date has yet to be set for further litigation.

UNT says Denton Municipal Electric is required to give the university a 20 percent discount approved by the Texas Legislature in 1995.

“It is our position that this lawsuit is simply a matter of statutory interpretation,” said Nancy Footer, UNT’s vice chancellor and general counsel.

Footer said the university appealed an earlier judgment that awarded the utility company $111,988, with an additional $1,071,245 held by the court pending the suit’s outcome.

Kelley Reese, the university’s relations and communication director, said UNT’s representation would not discuss the case further because it is an ongoing case.

UNT’s argument is that the 1999 bill, known as the Texas Utility Restructuring Act, allowed utility companies to change the rates of their services but maintained the mandated discount, according to documents filed with the court.

Not so, said Michael Whitten, who represents the city’s interests in the suit.

The city argues that the 1999 legislation gave it the option to discount electrical services, but no longer required the company to do so.

The case comes down to the interpretation of an already confusingly worded piece of legislation, Whitten said.

If the university prevails after the appeal, the $1,071,245.49 currently in escrow, meaning the court holds it until a decision is reached, will be returned, according to the court documents.

If Denton Municipal Electric prevails, the money will be awarded to the company, along with a 9.25 percent interest charge “on each installment withheld beginning on the 31st day following the date the installment was originally due, until paid,” according to files received from the court.

Sara Penn, a fashion design sophomore, said if the university loses, students would end up paying for it.

“We pay for it one way or another, whether it’s through our state taxes or our tuition,” she said.

That, she said, is unfair.

“It’s not our fault it didn’t get taken care of,” she said. “We pay enough, I think.”

The university and the city agreed that legal fees will be paid by the losing party, a sum of $35,000 if the case is not taken to the Texas Supreme Court. An additional $10,500 is incurred if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, according to the case documents.

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