Northwest Natural Gas Co. v. City of GreshamAnnotate this Case
Plaintiffs Rockwood Water People’s Utility District (Rockwood PUD), Northwest Natural Gas Company (NW Natural) and Portland General Electric Company (PGE) sought review of a Court of Appeals decision to uphold the validity of municipal enactments by respondent City of Gresham (the city) that increased the licensing fee that each utility was required to pay from five percent to seven percent of the utility’s gross revenues earned within the City. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the enactments were void and unenforceable because they conflicted with the provisions of ORS 221.450. Alternatively, Rockwood PUD argued that it could not be taxed more than five percent by a city without explicit statutory authority. Trial court agreed with plaintiffs that the enactments violated ORS 221.450, and did not reach Rockwood PUD’s alternative argument. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the fee increase was not preempted by ORS 221.450 because the utilities were not operating “without a franchise” and that a city’s home-rule authority to impose taxes or fees on a utility is not affected by a utility’s municipal corporation status. The Supreme Court held that the license fee imposed by the City was a “privilege tax” and that the affected utilities were operating “without a franchise” within the meaning of ORS 221.450. The Court also held that the City was not preempted by ORS 221.450 from imposing the seven percent privilege tax on NW Natural and PGE, but that the City did not have express statutory authority to impose a tax in excess of five percent on Rockwood PUD under ORS 221.450.