Battle over Burlington Telecom moves to Vermont Supreme Court

Published: Oct. 22, 2019 at 8:59 AM EDT
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The battle over Burlington Telecom moved to Vermont's highest court on Tuesday.

More than six months after the utility was sold, a group of taxpayers is still opposing the deal.

Our Christina Guessferd takes you inside the Supreme Court hearing, a critical step in the case.

The city says the deal is done but the plaintiffs argue the Supreme Court can still take action to fix what they say was a bad deal for Burlington taxpayers.

At the heart of this case is whether the city should have sought repayment of $17 million in taxpayer money that was wrongly spent to keep BT running a decade ago.

The plaintiffs want the Supreme Court to order the city to collect that money from the new owner, Schurz Communications.

The city claims they don't have the legal right to force Schurz Communications to reimburse the money. In other words, getting that $17 million back is impossible.

The appellants argue the problem boils down to one thing: the sale never should have happened in the first place because the Public Utilities Commission approved it without a requirement that Schurz repay the taxpayers.

"The commission in its first ruling in February said, 'We've carefully reviewed this to ensure that taxpayers receive as much money as possible.' And we pointed out that, in fact, there was no evidence, zero," said James Dumont, the lawyer for the appellants.

"The justices were focused, as they should be, on what is in the best interest of the city and its taxpayers, and this deal represents the best deal that's going to happen. And so even though everybody acknowledges that the full amount of the city's prior investments are not going to be recovered, this deal puts in place the best outcome that's possible at this point," said Paul Phillips, the lawyer for the petitioners.

The taxpayer group is not asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the sale, but they are saying the Supreme Court should send the case back to the Public Utilities Commission, which should then require a new deal with Schurz that would include repayment of the $17 million.

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