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FIRE TAX ISSUE OVER: City signs agreements with Southeast, Nichols

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Residents in Shepherdsville who have been paying their city taxes and a fire tax over the course of the next 12 years may finally get some relief.

On Monday, the Shepherdsville City Council unanimously approved settlement agreements with the Southeast Bullitt and Nichols fire tax districts. This would end litigation dating back to 1999.

“I’m excited for the people of Shepherdsville,” said mayor Scott Ellis. “And I’m excited for the members of the fire districts to say this is over.”

Since 1999, the fire tax districts have battled with Shepherdsville over territory lost due to annexation of property into the city limits. Typically, once the property joins the city, it could be removed from the tax rolls of the fire districts, if all steps are followed.

In the agreement announced Monday, Shepherdsville would not be required to make any payments to Southeast Bullitt Fire District.

That district’s boundary dispute included territory along Cedar Grove Road, the major distribution businesses along that stretch and the Heritage Hill residential and golf community.

City attorney Joseph Wantland said that during negotiations for the settlement, it was going to be difficult for Southeast Bullitt to prove that it incurred any indebtedness since 2007 due to the city’s annexation of property.

In 2007, Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress ruled that Shepherdsville did indeed have a regular fire department and had the right to annex property.

During the annexation process, cities are responsible for any indebtedness the fire districts may have incurred to protect the lost territory.

The only thing left in negotiations with Southeast Bullitt is to finalize some boundaries.

Wantland said the Southeast Bullitt Board of Trustees has already signed off on the agreement.

In prior court proceedings, which were to result in a bench trial with Burress on Dec. 22, Southeast Bullitt had claimed debts of $1 million.

However, Wantland said, the negotiations revealed that neither party would owe anything to anyone.

In terms of the settlement with Nichols Fire Protection District, Wantland said the indebtedness was not as clear.

The boundary disputes with the city included residential communities on Highway 44 West.

Under terms of the agreement, a figure of $40,000 was reached. Wantland said Shepherdsville would immediately make a $25,000 payment with the final $15,000 installment to be paid by July 1, 2012.

In looking at the situation, Wantland said the debt could have ranged from $5,000-$100,000.

For Wantland, who has twice been city attorney and worked on the litigation during two tenures,it is a situation where residents of Shepherdsville would no longer be faced with double taxation.

“It’s good that the people will not be burdened with paying two taxes,” said Wantland. “It is not fair that they were paying twice.”

He also hoped the agreement would settle any hard feelings between the departments.

In the past, Shepherdsville firefighters have gotten in trouble for battling blazes and saving a man from an overturned vehicle because they went into other territories.

This should settle any of those issues, said Wantland.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Ellis, who was a member of the city’s fire department for years. “I’m tickled that this is over.”

He was proud that the parties could finally work out an agreement that was fair for the residents and for the taxpayers.

“It was truly a team effort,” said Ellis. “It’s a great Christmas present for the city.”

Shepherdsville fire chief Layne Troutman said that the departments really didn’t have trouble working together over the years once they got to the scene.

“I’m thankful that everyone came together to settle this,” said Troutman.

He looks forward to continuing to work with all the departments.

The city previously settled with two other parties in the original 1999 lawsuit. Zoneton and Mount Washington fire districts reached settlements with the city over its debt. Those payments have been made.

The agreements would end a long battle between the various departments. At times, fire scenes became very contentious as departments argued over who should be battling blazes.

There were various threats over the years over Shepherdsville’s going outside the original municipal boundaries to assist in fire and rescues.

In the meantime, there have been several discussions about residents who paid both the fire tax and the city property taxes looking into possible legal action. No such civil litigation has ever been filed.

With the settlement reached prior to Jan. 1, Wantland said he hopes that the fire tax will not be charged next year to any resident who lives in the city of Shepherdsville.

In terms of future annexations, Wantland said, that territory would become part of the city and not subject to any reimbursement to the fire districts affected.

Two years ago, a settlement was announced between Southeast Bullitt and Shepherdsville; however, that agreement was later voided by the court system.