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Court reverses adjustment to fire protection territory’s general fund levy

November 20, 2014

Citing a lack of sufficient factual findings and a public law’s unconstitutionality, the Indiana Tax Court on Wednesday reversed the adjustment made by the Department of Local Government Finance to the Greenfield Fire Protection Territory’s general fund levy for the 2012 budget year.

The city of Greenfield and Center Township in Hancock County adopted identical ordinances in 2008 that established the Greenfield Fire Protection Territory. In 2011, the Legislature enacted Public Law 172-2011, Section 164, a non-code provision that deals with each fire protection territory in Hancock County that has a uniform tax rate throughout the territory. The law allows the DLGF to review the tax rate and levies.

The Greenfield Fire Protection Territory is the only fire protection territory in the county that has a uniform tax rate.

After holding a public hearing and accepting evidence, the DLGF reduced the territory’s general fund level from $2,345,015 to $2,060,260 for the 2012 budget year, effectively eliminating the territory’s use of a uniform tax rate.

The city and territory appealed in 2011, and the Tax Court heard arguments in June 2012.

In The City of Greenfield and the Greenfield Fire Protection Territory v. The Ind. Dep't of Local Government Finance, 49T10-1111-TA-67, Senior Judge Thomas Fisher found that the state agency’s factual findings contain very few factual findings. Many merely identify the witnesses that offered testimony and reproduce evidence, or just a legal rationale for readjusting the levies, but no factual findings.

And although the lack of sufficient factual findings would typically require the court to remand the matter to the DLGF, Fisher remanded for a different reason: The DLGF final determination is invalid because P: 172-2011, Section 164 violates Article I, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution.

That section provides that “in all cases enumerated in (Section 22), and in all other cases where a general law can be made applicable, all laws shall be general, and of uniform operation throughout the state.”

Courts have upheld a special law that applied solely to a county because of unique circumstances that justified the special legislation, Fisher wrote.

“The certified administrative record and the three generally applicable provisions of Public Law 172-2011 regarding fire protection territories indicate that Public Law 172-2011, Section 164 could have been written to apply throughout the state because neither the Territory nor the circumstances surrounding its establishment are unique. Therefore, Public Law 172-2011, Section 164 contravenes the special legislation provisions set forth in Article 4, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution. Accordingly, the DLGF’s final determination that adjusted the Territory’s general fund levy for the 2012 budget year pursuant to Public Law 172-2011, Section 164 is invalid.”

 

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