On June 7, 2010, the Jasper County Board of Commissioners issued a resolution “seeking to establish a cumulative building fund and levy for enlarging, equipping, and remodeling the Jasper County Hospital.”  Slip op. at 2.  The County Council approved the request for the tax levy, which the Department of Local Government Finance denied.

Large projects v. routine maintenance.  At issue in Board of Commissioners of the County of Jasper, Indiana v. Indiana Dep’t of Local Gov’t Fin. (May 17, 2013) was the limitation in Indiana Code § 16-22-5-4 that a tax to provide for the cumulative building fund “may be levied annually for not more than twelve (12) years . . . .”  According to the Department, this phrase means that a county may establish only one cumulative building fund and levy for up to twelve years.  The provision’s intent is to fund large hospital projects, not routine maintenance.  The Commissioners, in contrast, argued that the statute’s plain language doesn’t limit the number of times a county hospital board may seek to establish the fund and levy.   Rather, the provision is part of a statutory scheme “intended to fund the recurring events in the life of a county hospital building.”  Slip op. at 3.

A look at legislative history.   The Tax Court considered the “history and development” of the statute and noted:  “As early as 1903, the General Assembly made clear that the predecessor to Indiana Code § 16-22-5 et seq. was intended to provide county hospital boards with the means to establish and maintain county hospitals.”  Slip op. at 4 (emphasis in original; citations omitted).  Reviewing various versions of the cumulative building fund statutes in effect throughout the past century, the Court explained that the statutory history “consistently articulates the intent to allow recurring cumulative building funds and levies, not to limit the number of funds and levies that may be established during the life of a county hospital.”  Slip op. at 6.

The Department argued that its interpretation protects taxpayers from the “hardships of continually paying for large cumulative building fund levies.” Slip op. at 8.  The Court disagreed, explaining this argument “discounts or completely ignores the significant role county executives and fiscal bodies play in approving cumulative building fund levy requests as well as the important role taxpayers play in contesting levies through a statutorily provided remonstrance process.”  Slip op. at 8 (citing Indiana Code §§ 16-22-5-3 to -11).