Library's budget penalty could be Supreme Court bound

GOSHEN — The state plans to take the Goshen Public Library’s $60 budget overage to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Department of Local Government Finance filed an intention to request a review of the issue July 29, beginning a legal process that could result in the high court considering whether or not to hear the case.

The move came after the library won an appeal of the agency’s penalty for going over its 2018 budget through a clerical error.

The DLGF, which oversees property tax assessments and local government budgeting, rejected the library’s proposed budget in January 2018 because it went $60 over the maximum allowed amount for increasing annual property tax levies without approval. As a result, the library’s budget was scaled back to 2017 levels, costing $85,426 in revenue the organization had planned for that year.

The library board disputed the call and appealed through the Indiana Tax Court. Arguments included the $60 overage was a data error that could have been corrected, and the state’s response was overkill.

The tax court sided with the library in finding the more than $85,000 budget loss resulted in “significant harm” from going an “insignificant” $60 over, the ruling from June 28 shows. The DLGF’s order was reversed and sent back to the agency.

The notice intending to pursue an appeal of the tax court’s ruling was filed about a month later. That started a clock, giving the DLGF 30 days to file a brief arguing why the state supreme court should hear the issue. Once that’s filed, the library will have 30 days to respond, and then the DLGF will be given another 15 days for a follow-up, court rules show.

“At this point, it’s more of a waiting game to see what they actually say in their brief,” Ross Riker, the Goshen Public Library’s acting director, said after receiving notice of the filing.

Riker said he couldn’t comment more on the matter.

A DLGF spokeswoman also said the agency can’t comment on the pending litigation.

State Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Syracuse, explained the DLGF has reasons for being stubborn about penalizing the Goshen Public Library over $60. They include concerns that relenting on the decision could set a precedent for other governmental entities that could try to seek breaks on larger overages.

With the state potentially seeking a Supreme Court decision, Doriot said he would consult with the Indiana Senate’s budget head on possibly revisiting the issue in the General Assembly next year.

“I’m going to look into it and see what’s happening,” Doriot said.

He also said he had conversations with DLGF leaders after the issue arose in 2018. Provisions to create legislative fixes were attached to a larger tax bill during the legislature’s 2018 session, he said.

One provision would have given the DLGF authority to correct an entity’s budget if it was submitted with an error or omission of less than 0.25 percent of the amount. Another provision called for allowing the DLFG to give the library a one-time increase of its maximum tax levy for its 2019 budget if the library sought one, according to information in that bill.

The bill, however, didn’t pass before the 2018 legislative session expired.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.

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