Major Water Fight Develops Between Burial Society, Meitav

Every two months each Israeli household receives one of the least popular pieces of mail around: the combined water and municipal fees bill. It also includes a sewerage charge, calculated in accordance with household water usage. If at least some of the water used does not go back into the sewage system - such as water used for crop irrigation or for industry - it is possible to obtain a partial waiver of the sewerage charge.

But are these waivers always fair? To judge by a suit filed recently in the Petah Tikva District Court, the answer may well be no, they are not.

The water association of Petah Tikva, Meitav, is suing the hevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) operating in the Tel Aviv region, as well as Egodan, the Dan Cities Association for Sewage. Meitav claims the hevra kadisha unlawfully obtained a waiver of 74 percent and 80 percent of the sewerage charge for 2008 and 2009, respectively, for the Yarkon Cemetery.

The waiver was issued by Egodan's engineer.

Making waivers

Meitav claims that according to an examination that it conducted, the waiver should be only 9.82 percent, and that the difference between the two amounts comes to about NIS 3.5 million in sewerage charges.

Meitav is asking the court to declare the amount of the waiver illegal and void and to strip the Egodan's engineer of his authority to issue such waivers in the future insofar as they would apply to Meitav.

In pursuing its case, Meitav used the services of a private detective, a surveyor and the acting head of the Petah Tikva municipality's gardens and public works department, among other means, to examine the amount of the waiver extended to the hevra kadisha.

Meitav found that the waiver stipulated that 74 percent and 80 percent of the water used by the hevra kadisha in 2008 and 2009 respectively was to be used for watering lawns and plantings. In practice, however, watering was only one of 10 different uses of the water, which included washing bodies prior to burial, ritual hand washing for people exiting the cemetary, drinking fountains, bathrooms and a number of mikvehs (ritual baths).

The water association also claims that according to its research, the highest waiver for water used for gardening issued in Meitav's jurisdiction in 2008 was 23.5 percent, and that was for a much larger area of lawns and plantings.

The head of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa District Hevra Kadisha, Avraham Manela, issued the following response: "Unfortunately, Meitav is managed with avarice, unprofessionalism and not in accordance with the principles of good governance. Meitav attempts, time and again, to find its way into the 'deep pockets' of organizations that operate for the benefit of the public, on the principle of 'whatever works.'

'Scandalous bills'

Manela added: "Meitav issued scandalous bills that were professionally examined by the Dan Cities Association for Sewage and found to be unjust."

The hevra kadisha, Manela said in his response, "received waivers in accordance with the law. This suit is completely baseless and it is doomed to be thrown out by the court."

The chairman of Egodan, Arnon Giladi, said in response: "We regret that the professional differences of opinion between one of the owners of Egodan [Meitav] and Egodan itself has to come to arbitration in a court, and not be part of the routine working relationship between these two bodies. Nevertheless, we shall study the suit and will respond appropriately in the future."