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Goshen Public Library of Elkhart County v. Department of Local Government Finance of State

Tax Court of Indiana

June 28, 2019

GOSHEN PUBLIC LIBRARY OF ELKHART COUNTY, INDIANA, Petitioner,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE OF THE STATE OF INDIANA, Respondent.

          ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE

          ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER: JOHN W. DAVIS DAVIS & ROOSE Goshen

          ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA ZACHARY D. PRICE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL Indianapolis

          WENTWORTH, JUDGE

         The Goshen Public Library of Elkhart County, Indiana challenges the Department of Local Government Finance's (the "DLGF's") certification of its budget for the 2018 tax year. Upon review, the Court REVERSES the DLGF's final determination.

         Before proceeding further, the Court notes that the certified administrative record in this case lacked evidence material to the DLGF's final determination. As the reviewing Court, not the trier of fact, the Court considers only the evidence in the certified administrative record. See, e.g., Gary Cmty. Sch. Corp. v. Indiana Dep't of Local Gov't Fin., 15 N.E.3d 1149, 1150-51 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2014). Indiana Code § 6-1.1-30-6 requires the DLGF to keep a public record of its proceedings and orders, and thus, a properly certified and attested copy of the records and orders in an appeal is "sufficient evidence in all courts or proceedings to prove an action, rule, or order of the [DLGF.]" Ind. Code § 6-1.1-30-6 (2018). Although prudence should prompt the parties to ensure that the proper record is certified to the Court, [1] the infirmities of the record in this appeal are also attributable to the broken procedural process governing DLGF administrative appeals.

         The Court repeats the message written in a footnote nearly five years ago to reflect its considerable concern:

The Court recognizes that the DLGF is hindered by the nature of its administrative appeals process because it does not employ a typical adversarial system. Its process invites confusion over what the certified administrative record must contain, as here, and is susceptible to the parties failing to develop all relevant facts and legal arguments. Indeed, Justice DeBruler of the Indiana Supreme Court has explained that the import of our adversarial system is to elicit all relevant facts and provide litigants with the opportunity to present the best legal arguments in support of their respective positions. See State ex rel. Keller v. Criminal Ct. Marion Cty. Div. IV, 317 N.E.2d 433, 443 (Ind. 1974) (DeBruler, J., concurring and dissenting). Accordingly, the DLGF must be aware of the dangers inherent in its administrative appeals process and strive to prevent them from occurring in the future.

Gary Cmty. Sch. Corp., 15 N.E.3d at 1151 n.3.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 30, 2018, the DLGF issued a 1782 Notice to the Library that noted that the Library's 2018 proposed budget was not adopted because it was "over the maximum allowable limit for becoming a Binding Unit in the amount of $60[.]" (Cert. Admin. R. at 15.) The DLGF therefore reduced the Library's general fund, library improvement fund (LIRF), and property tax levy to the prior year's budget amount. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 15.)

         On February 7, 2018, the Library appealed the 1782 Notice to the DLGF, claiming that the reductions were unwarranted because its 2018 proposed budget did not exceed the assessed value growth quotient (AVGQ) allowed by statute.[2] (See Cert. Admin. R. at 23-25.) (See also Cert. Admin. R. at 26-28.) Alternatively, the Library claimed that the reductions were improper because its 2018 proposed budget contained a correctable error in data (i.e., the inadvertent adoption of a budget of $3, 342, 399 rather than a budget of $3, 342, 339).[3] (See Cert. Admin. R. at 24, 28.)

         On February 14, 2018, the DLGF denied the Library's appeal, explaining

the reason that [the] DLGF continued the [Library's] 2017 budget was because your [proposed] budget was above the [AVGQ] for 2018, which requires an adoption of the budget by the county fiscal body. That action by the county fiscal body did not occur.
After a thorough review by [the] DLGF['s] staff, the [DLGF] finds no mechanism under the law that will allow for a reversal of our initial decision to continue [your] 2017 budget. Therefore, [the] DLGF will finalize the budget certifications for Elkhart County today.

(Cert. Admin. R. at 11.) Accordingly, that same day, the DLGF certified the 2018 Budget Order for Elkhart County, which incorporated the final budgets, tax rates, and tax levies for the Library and other taxing units ...


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