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DLGF ordered to decide whether loan determination is unconstitutional

May 28, 2013

The Indiana Tax Court Friday sent a case back to the Department of Local Government Finance for it to take another look at its approval of a $400,000 loan for a fire truck to be paid entirely by residents of a Morgan County township. Some residents argued that because the truck would be used by other townships, it’s unconstitutional to order them to be solely responsible for the loan.

In Dora Brown, Ben Kindle, and Sonjia Graf v. Department of Local Government Finance, 49T10-0912-TA-83, Gregg Township residents Dora Brown, Ben Kindle and Sonjia Graf challenged the DLGF’s final determination approving the township's loan resolution for the 2010 tax year. In 2009, the board passed a resolution under I.C. 36-8-13 allowing the township to incur a loan to purchase a fire truck because its 1992 frontline pumper was outdated and did not meet current regulations.

The petitioners argue that the final determination must be reversed because it is contrary to law, not supported by substantial evidence and in violation of their constitutional rights. The Tax Court heard arguments in the case in October 2011.

Judge Martha Wentworth affirmed the final determination in part, finding that the DLGF was not required to consider eight factors in a “needs analysis” as the petitioners argued because the loan was approved under I.C. 36-8-13. If it had been approved under I.C. 36-6-14(d), the eight factors would have to be considered.

Wentworth also declined the petitioner’s invitation to reweigh the evidence, to judge the credibility of the township’s witnesses, or to hold that the township should have presented some other evidence for the DLGF to consider.

She did remand the matter to the DLGF because it did not address the petitioner’s argument that its final determination violates Article 1, Section 23 and Article 10, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution. The petitioners argued that the determination wrongly requires the taxpayers of Gregg Township to bear the entire cost of the loan even though the fire department will use the new vehicle to respond to calls outside of the township. The DLGF must review the evidence, weigh it and make a determination on the matter, Wentworth held.

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