The Journal Gazette
Friday, February 14, 2020 3:08 pm

Appeals court sides with city in dispute about fire-district taxes

MATT LeBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The Indiana Court of Appeals has sided with the city in a long-running dispute about tax money.

At issue are more than a dozen areas the city annexed in 1987 that were served by the Southwest Allen County Fire Protection District. City firefighters began serving those areas, but former county Auditor Tera Klutz continued to direct tax dollars to the district.

City officials sued in 2016, and the case has remained tied up in trial and appeals courts.

In a 25-page decision Friday, appeals court judges ruled the city is entitled to future tax revenues from the annexed areas, citing a portion of state law that says "when a municipality annexes areas that are part of a fire protection district, and then provides fire services in the annexed areas, the fire protection district ceases to exist in those areas."

"We conclude that upon annexation and provision of the fire protection services to the Annexed Territories, the city was entitled to receive the assessed tax revenue associated with the Annexed Territories," the ruling authored by Judge Patricia A. Riley says.

Judges Cale Bradford and Nancy Vaidik agreed, though Vaidik issued a separate dissent questioning whether the case should have been considered by the Indiana Tax Court.

That doesn't mean a windfall for the city, however, because the appeals court's ruling bars the city from seeking "past tax levies that have already been allocated and distributed."

The city might be able to secure tax money given to the fire district from May 2016 to February 2019, but its lawyers will have to persuade a lower court judge it appealed the tax revenues during that time in a timely manner. That question will be decided in Allen Superior Court.

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