Billings attorneys are appealing a district court decision that classified a lawsuit against the city as a class action, a move that opened the suit to thousands of city residents.

A ruling in April by Cascade County District Judge Gregory Pinski allowed the suit in Yellowstone County District Court to move forward as a class action lawsuit, which brings in every city resident who paid a franchise fee on their water, wastewater or solid waste disposal bill, a group of almost 35,000 people.

The fight started when a group of seven Billings residents sued the city, arguing that the franchise fee was essentially an illegal tax collected by the city and that by charging it, the city violated their rights.

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Billings started charging franchise fees in 1992; 4% for water and wastewater services, and 5% for solid waste disposal services. The city ended the practice last summer.

The class action designation last month moved the lawsuit one step closer to a hearing and, depending on the final ruling, could mean the city will be responsible for compensating nearly 35,000 residents who have been charged franchise fees.

The city filed its appeal against the class action designation with state Supreme Court on Thursday.

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