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Flicker of life shown in fire tax lawsuit

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By The Staff

SHEPHERDSVILLE - Garland “Corky” Miller doesn’t understand it.

A lawsuit filed by four fire taxing districts against the city of Shepherdsville has been in the court system for 10 years.

But a decision could come within the next month.

The matter has been on Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress’ desk for over a year waiting for attorneys to agree that it was ready for a decision.

And Miller, along with many other Shepherdsville residents, are still being forced to pay both city taxes as well as fire taxes to either Southeast Bullitt or Nichols.

The lawsuit stemmed from the city’s annexation of property into territories covered by the taxing districts of Mount Washington, Zoneton, Nichols and Southeast Bullitt fire departments.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Mount Washington and Zoneton have settled their dispute with Shepherdsville. The other two have not.

During the October 2007 bench trial, attorney Tim White claimed that Shepherdsville did not have a regular fire department manning the station 24/7.

Those departments claimed that Shepherdsville’s annexation hurt their tax base.

City attorney Bill Wilson claimed that Shepherdsville had a new firehouse and did provide around-the-clock protection. Paid firefighters are now on staff.

However, the matter has remained under submission.

On Monday, the case was presented in Bullitt Circuit Court for review.

Burress set a hearing for May 18 and gave the attorneys 30 minutes to make any final arguments. Any evidence for his consideration must be in the files by that day.

The judge said the question was simple - at the time of the hearing, was Shepherdsville maintaining a regular fire department.

After the hearing, Burress will take the case under submission.

Any decision could be taken to the state Court of Appeals, which has already heard the case once before.

Under the current situation, property owners in certain areas of the city face tax bills from Shepherdsville and from a fire tax district. Areas affected include along Cedar Grove Road and Highway 44 West.

“It’s taxation without representation,” said Miller, who lives in the Heritage Hills community. “I’m paying a double tax.”

Miller, who formerly served as mayor of Fox Chase before moving to Shepherdsville, said he has called the state attorney general’s office to see if anything could be done.

Wilson said the city taxes cover all services, including the fire department. He felt confident that the city would prevail in the legal battle.

The department had several full-time firefighters at the time of the 2007 court trial and has added another six thanks to a federal grant.

The district is currently under an evaluation that would lower its ISO rating, which would decrease homeowners insurance premiums.

“I don’t see how it can go on,” Miller said of the legal battle. “Somebody is going to get hurt by it.”

There have been times in the past that departments have run into conflicts at fire scenes over who should be there. This concerned Miller.

Until the matter is resolved, Wilson said there are parts of the city that must be served by the other two departments.

Councilman Larry Hatfield said it hurts bringing businesses to the city if they know they must pay a city tax and then also a fire department tax.