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Government can create fire protection district

September 2, 2008

A board of commissioners in a southern Indiana county had the authority under Indiana statute to pass an ordinance creating a county-wide fire protection district, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

At issue in Ronald Sanders, Paul Hardin, Dallas Kelp, et al. v. Board of Commissioners of Brown County, Indiana, et al., No. 07A01-0803-CV-104, is whether a county legislative body may only establish a fire protection district if those who are defined as freeholders under Indiana Code Section 36-8-11 file a petition requesting the district.

The appellants in this case, who are property owners, filed a complaint in Brown Circuit Court requesting declaratory judgment that an ordinance passed by the commissioners was void because they believed Indiana statute only allowed a fire protection district to be established if initiated by the freeholders.

After examining I.C. Sections 36-8-11-4 and -5, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the sections are not ambiguous when read together and they provide two methods for establishing a district - by petition from the freeholders or by a county's legislative body.

The trial court's interpretation was consistent with I.C. Section 36-8-2-3, which allows for a county, municipality, or township to establish, maintain, and operate a fire prevention system, wrote Judge Paul Mathias. In addition, the appellate court concluded that the General Assembly desired to empower freeholders with the ability to establish a district if a county's legislative body doesn't do so based on the language of I.C. Section 36-8-11-5, which states "Freeholders who desire the establishment of a fire protection district..."

The appellate court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of the Board of Commissioners of Brown County, and the Board of Fire Trustees of Brown County Fire Protection District.

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