Susan Karasinski sits with a pile of legal documents and bills at her home Thu., April 25, 2019. The Court of Special Appeals, the state's second highest court, recently ruled in her favor in a disputed sewer bill. Baltimore County says it won't appeal the decision.
Susan Karasinski sits with a pile of legal documents and bills at her home Thu., April 25, 2019. The Court of Special Appeals, the state's second highest court, recently ruled in her favor in a disputed sewer bill. Baltimore County says it won't appeal the decision. (Karl Merton Ferron / The Baltimore Sun)

For three years, Susan Karasinski has maintained that Baltimore County overcharged her by more than $10,000 for sewer service at the Dundalk home where she once lived.

Maryland’s second-highest court agreed in a ruling this month — Karasinski’s third legal victory since her dispute with the county began. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that there was “substantial evidence” to support the findings of the county’s Board of Appeals, which previously ruled a malfunctioning water meter was to blame and ordered the county to refund Karasinski.

Advertisement

Officials with County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.'s administration told The Sun they would not appeal the decision, signaling an end to the dispute.

Karasinski, 64, says the legal battle has taken its toll in stress, not to mention the legal fees.

“It’s not over,” she said, “until I actually get a check in hand.”

The conflict dates back to the summer of 2016, when Karasinski said she was shocked to receive an $11,558 sewer bill for the home — compared to just over $300 the previous year.

At the time, Karasinski was renting the house to a family of four. She and her husband, a disabled Vietnam veteran who is now bedridden, had moved to a nearby one-story house that was wheelchair-accessible.

Like other county properties, the water was supplied by Baltimore, which administers water bills. But the county handles sewer billing, basing the fees on water consumption as reported by the city.

The county calculated the sewer fee on water readings that were unusually high. Testimony in the case showed that the readings were more than 25 times the average consumption for a family of four, said Karasinski’s attorney, Justin Wallace.

The city, whose billing system has been wracked with problems, adjusted the water charges. But the county Department of Public Works refused to lower the sewer fee.

Karasinski, a retired federal Veterans Affairs worker, said she took money from her retirement fund to pay the bill.

“Who has $10,000 laying around?” she said.

Had she not paid, she said, she could have lost the home to a tax sale.

She took the case to the county’s Board of Appeals, which decided in 2017 that the water meter had malfunctioned, ordering a refund to Karasinski. Instead of paying, county officials appealed to the Baltimore County Circuit Court, which upheld the earlier order to refund her.

Again, the county appealed. Karasinski said the county offered her $10,000 this year to settle the case, but she refused.

A spokesman for Olszewski declined to comment on the settlement offer.

Advertisement

The case went to the Court of Special Appeals, which sided with Karasinski this month.

“Now three judicial bodies have found in favor of Ms. Karasinski, and we don’t believe that’s a mistake," said Wallace, adding that the case should prompt officials to review the process for handling “obvious overcharges.”

County Councilman Julian Jones, who sponsored legislation this year to give county residents more time to appeal disputed sewer charges, said it was unreasonable that the county had taken the legal conflict so far.

“It’s very disappointing to me that we would even be here, constantly fighting a citizen,” said Jones, a Woodstock Democrat.

In June, Olszewski and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, both Democrats, announced that the city and county would undertake a joint review of water issues, including billing.

Olszewski spokesman T.J. Smith said discussions about the review are “ongoing,” and a request for proposals isn’t yet complete.

County residents’ sewer charges are included on annual property tax bills. This year, the tax bills were mailed out in the midst of a ransomware attack on Baltimore.

County officials said in June that the attack meant they couldn’t verify sewer charges for about 14,000 customers.

The county has received calls about the problem from more than 500 customers and officials expect to resolve most of the issues “within a few months,” Smith said.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement