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Fire districts must reveal debt incurred

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - After 11 years, there might be some potential end to a legal battle involving the city of Shepherdsville and several fire taxing districts.

Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress has set a trial date of Aug. 3 in the remaining two suits against the city - filed by the Southeast Bullitt and the Nichols fire tax districts.

The lawsuit, initiated by the taxing districts of Nichols, Southeast Bullitt, Mount Washington and Zoneton in 1989, revolved around whether a city could annex property into its boundaries and out of the fire district.

Shepherdsville officials settled suits involving Mount Washington and Zoneton several years ago.

However, the remaining two districts continue the legal battle.

Burress ruled that Shepherdsville did have a regular fire department and could annex property. However, under state law, the fire tax districts must be compensated for any debt it incurred to provide protection for those territories.

Last Monday, Burress said that amount of debt to be paid was the lone issue to be considered at trial.

Attorney Tim White, representing the fire tax districts, said that determining the debt is the key.

It appeared last year that a settlement had been reached between Southeast Bullitt and Shepherdsville where the fire district would pay the city $1 million over a number of years and would be allowed to keep taxing the territory south of Cedar Grove Road, which contains the many distribution centers in Cedar Grove Business Park.

Not included in the Southeast Bullitt territory would be Heritage Hills golf and residential community to the north of Cedar Grove Road.

However, Burress questioned the original agreement between the two parties. A new agreement was considered possible up until the last hours of 2010.

Nothing was presented.

This Monday, another discussion was held.

“What is the debt?” inquired city attorney Joseph Wantland.

Wantland said he would like some proof as to what amount the debt is and who the money is owed. In looking at the property valuation records and in talking with the county clerk’s office, Wantland said he couldn’t find where either department suffered hardships due to debt incurred to provide fire protected in the annexed territories.

White said he would provide the information within 10 days to Wantland.

He added that the bigger issue was what damage the fire districts incurred years ago when the city annexed property prior to the lawsuit and how much money was removed from the fire district tax rolls.

Wantland said if property owners did not pay fire tax bills, White would have to go after those people. He wasn’t aware of anyone who was stricken from the district’s tax rolls at any time.

Instead, Wantland said the bigger question might be how many people should the fire districts repaid for double taxation since the annexations took place.

Burress said many of the phone calls he has received from property owners was that they were paying two tax bills.

During trial, Wantland said surveyor Brad Armstrong would testify to the actual city boundaries.

Burress overruled White’s motion asking for another decision on his previous ruling. White was asking for a detailed findings of fact.

The judge said that it was previously ruled upon and the new request was similar in nature.

Earlier this year, Wantland said Shepherdsville was moving forward with its pursuit to win the lawsuit. He said earlier in 2011 that the city had a regular fire department and there was no legal reason why property owners in the city limits had to pay a fire tax when that service was already provided by Shepherdsville and included in the cost of the annual property taxes.

Garland “Corky” Miller, a frequent attendee of city council meetings, has repeatedly asked the status of the suit. As a resident in Heritage Hills, Miller reminded councilmembers over the years that he is paying double taxation.

Even if the matter is decided in August, it could be appealed. Also, property owners may not get any relief on their 2011 tax bills since they were listed in the Southeast Bullitt or Nichols territory (along Highway 44 West) on Jan. 1, 2011.