THE CITY OF GREENFIELD and THE GREENFIELD FIRE PROTECTION TERRITORY, Petitioners,
THE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE, Respondent
ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE.
ATTORNEYS FOR PETITIONERS: MARK J. CRANDLEY, ZIAADDIN MOLLABASHY, BARNES & THORNBURG LLP, Indianapolis, IN.
ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA; JESSICA E. REAGAN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN.
FISHER, Senior Judge.
The Greenfield Fire Protection Territory, which was established by the City of Greenfield and the unincorporated area of Center Township, Hancock County, Indiana (Center Township), is the only fire protection territory in Hancock County that has a uniform tax rate. In 2011, the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF)
issued a final determination pursuant to Public Law 172-2011, Section 164
that adjusted the Territory's general fund levy for the 2012
budget year. The City of Greenfield and the Territory have appealed that final
determination, claiming that it is arbitrary and capricious, not supported by
substantial evidence, and in contravention of Article 4, Sections 22 and 23 of
the Indiana Constitution. Upon review, the Court reverses.
Prior to 2008, Center Township had individual contracts with the Greenfield Fire Department for fire protection and emergency response services. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 1.) The residents of Center Township, however, paid significantly less for the same services than the residents of the City of Greenfield. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 1.)
In March 2008, the legislative bodies of the City of Greenfield and Center Township adopted an identical ordinance and resolution that approved their Interlocal Agreement to establish the Territory under Indiana Code § 36-8-19-1 et seq. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 9-30.) (See also Cert. Admin. R., App. A (Audio of DLGF Hr'g) at 33:04.) The Interlocal Agreement provided that the City of Greenfield, as the provider unit, would establish a general fund for operating and maintenance expenses as well as an equipment replacement fund for equipment and housing needs. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 12.) In addition, the Interlocal Agreement stated that the Territory would prepare an annual budget, subject to the approval of both the Center Township Trustee and the Greenfield Common Council, and establish tax rates and levies to fund the budget. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 12.) While the Interlocal Agreement provided that the City of Greenfield and Center Township could establish different tax rates that were to be uniformly applied to the taxable property in each locality, the actual goal was to impose the same tax rate in both localities. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 11, 48.)
In 2009, the Territory adopted its first annual budget and established a uniform tax rate of $0.2414. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 48, 53, 87-88; DLGF Hr'g at 21:45.) In 2010, the uniform tax rate increased to $0.2566, but by 2011, it had decreased to $0.2436. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 53, 90-91, 94.)
On May 10, 2011, the legislature enacted Public Law 172-2011, Section 164, a non-code provision, which provided:
(a) The [DLGF] shall review the tax rates and levies for each fire protection territory that is located in Hancock County and that has a uniform tax rate throughout the territory. The [DLGF] shall reconsider adjusting the tax levies for the participating units and whether different tax rates for fire protection services should be applied for the participating units included within the territory. In conducting its review, the [DLGF]
shall consider the following factors and discuss
the factors with each participating unit in the territory:
(1) The population and change in population of each unit in the territory.
(2) The assessed valuation and change of assessed valuation of real property in each ...