RULING ON LIABILITY OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS FOR WATER RENTS.
A ruling of the Railroad Commission of Wisconsin makes the school districts of Appleton, Wis., liable for the water rents from December 1, 1911, to May 1, 1915. The ruling states: We are very clearly of the opinion that these school districts are liable for the water service furnished them since the city took over the water works in 1911. The provisions of the franchise, which had expired long before the date about named, could in no way affect such liability. We are clearly of the opinion also that when the utility law was enacted in 1907 that it rendered wholly void any provision in the franchise for free service either to individuals, school districts, or the municipality in which the utility was operating. This doctrine is upheld by the supreme court of this State in La Crosse Gas & Elec. Co., 145 Wis. 408. Under subdivision 17 of the syllabus prepared by the judge writing the opinion, the law on this subject is stated in very compact form as follows: “The feature of the public utility law rendering nonenforceable existing contracts relating to any charge or service regulated thereby in case of conversion of an old into a new franchise by the surrender of the former, by necessary implication, renders non-cnforccable obligations of the corporation incurred as a condition of the old franchise and substitutes therefor the obligations and conditions of such law.” The court in this opinion very clearly distinguishes a burden or obligation, assumed as a condition of the granting of the franchise, from a contract or agreement for free service made independently of the franchise. In this connection the court differentiates the La Crosse case from the Superior vs. Douglas County Tel. Co., 141 Wis. 383. In the latter case the contract for free service was made wholly apart from any franchises or permit. There is, therefore, apparently no question as to the liability of these school districts for the service they have received. The only question presenting difficulty in this connection is the amount which could or should be reasonably charged for that portion of such service which was not metered. The amount of the charges to be made must depend, of course, in a measure upon more or less conjecture as to the consumption of water during the period when there were no meters. It should not be extraordinarily difficult to pretty closely approximate such consumption.