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Judge says fire trial will be done by end of year

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - The day of reckoning will occur before the end of this year.

So says Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress in the matter of Southeast Bullitt and Nichols fire districts versus the city of Shepherdsville.

With a lawsuit dating back to 1999, Burress told attorneys from the two sides on Monday that by the end of 2011, a bench trial would be held.

In question remains the conflict between the two taxing districts and the city over territory lost due to annexation by Shepherdsville.

The most recent decision by the state Court of Appeals was to dismiss an appeal on Burress’ recent ruling. The judge said it was Law School 101 that until he made a final ruling, the matter could not be appealed.

The three-member panel in Frankfort agreed.

On Monday, city attorney Joseph Wantland made a pair of moments.

First, he requested that Burress rule that previous rulings on where Shepherdsville could fight fires be taken off the table.

Wantland outlined a situation where Shepherdsville could have been found in contempt of a court order when it saved a man’s life in the Mount Washington Fire District and it stopped a possible rash of fires when it found a blaze in the Nichols territory.

He said removing all injunctions on where the city can fight fires would be for the safety of the public.

Attorney Jeffrey Freeman said you really couldn’t argue against public safety. However, he said the injunctions must have been needed due to conflict between the parties.

He objected to any change in the court’s decision to limit territory Shepherdsville could cover.

Burress overruled Wantland’s request.

The second issue was taken over by Burress when he set a trial date of Dec. 22.

“The case needs to be tried by the end of the year,” said Burress.

Both Wantland and Freeman agreed that it should take more than a day to try the case.

Freeman said there is only two reasons the court should be considering the matter.

First, Burress has already ruled that the city of Shepherdsville does have a regular fire department.

Second, there must be a solution to how much indebtedness the fire districts have incurred to provide fire protection in the territory which is about to be lost.

Burress said that issue would be taken up at trial.

Property owners in areas such as Highway 44 West, Heritage Hills subdivision and Cedar Grove Business Park have been subject to both a property tax bill to the city but also taxes to the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department.

In 1999, all four firing tax districts got into the case against Shepherdsville. Mount Washington and Zoneton reached settlement agreements.