Friday, May 16, 2014

Tax Court Finds Township's Lack of Evidence regarding Notice Prevented Finding DLGF Determination was Improper

Excerpts of the Tax Court's Decision follow:

Fire protection territories are a means by which two or more contiguous jurisdictions may pool resources for the purpose of providing fire protection and prevention services. See IND. CODE § 36-8-19-5 (2010). The basic requirements for establishing a fire protection territory are set forth in the following relevant portions of Indiana Code § 36-8-19-6:

(a) To establish a fire protection territory, the legislative bodies of each unit desiring to become a part of the proposed territory must adopt an ordinance (if the unit is a county or municipality) or a resolution (if the unit is a township) that meets the following requirements:

(1) The ordinance or resolution is identical to the ordinances and resolutions adopted by the other units desiring to become a part of the proposed territory.
(2) The ordinance or resolution is adopted after January 1 but before April 1.
(3) The ordinance or resolution authorizes the unit to become a party to an agreement for the establishment of a fire protection territory.
(4) The ordinance or resolution is adopted after the legislative body holds a public hearing to receive public comment on the proposed ordinance or resolution. The legislative body must give notice of the hearing under IC 5-3-1.
(b) The notice required under this section shall include the following:

(1) A list of the provider unit and all participating units in the proposed territory.
(2) The date, time, and location of the hearing.
(3) The location where the public can inspect the proposed ordinance or resolution.
(4) A statement as to whether the proposed ordinance or resolution requires uniform tax rates or different tax rates within the territory.
(5) The name and telephone number of a representative of the unit who may be contacted for further information.

IND. CODE § 36-8-19-6(a),(b) (2010).

The Townships admit that Van Buren Township’s notice did not comply with Indiana Code § 36-8-19-6(b). Specifically, they admit that the Van Buren Township notice failed to designate: 1) which Township was the fire territory’s provider unit and which Township was the participating unit; 2) the location where the public could inspect the proposed resolution creating the fire territory; and 3) who could be contacted for further information and how. (Compare Oral Arg. Tr. at 11-13 with I.C. § 36-8-19-6(b)(1), (3), (5).) Moreover, they admit that the Van Buren Township notice erroneously included Duck Township and erroneously listed Harvey Stitt’s title as “Lafayette Township Trustee” instead of “Van Buren Township Trustee.” (See Oral Arg. Tr. at 10-11.) Even so, the Townships argue on appeal that the DLGF’s final determination denying their levy request was improper because a reasonable person would not have been misled by the Van Buren Township notice’s defects. The Townships assert that because “[t]he pair of notices were published on the same days in the same newspaper” and thus “when read together[, they] contain[ed] all the information that [was] necessary” under Indiana Code § 36-8-19-6(b).

Unfortunately for the Townships, the Court cannot determine whether there is any merit to their argument because the administrative record in this case is completely devoid of any evidence demonstrating that the two notices were in fact published on the same days in the same newspaper. (See Cert. Admin. R.; Oral Arg. Tr. at 13-14.) Accordingly, the Court cannot find the DLGF’s final determination was improper. The Townships’ request for relief is therefore denied.